North Korea-backed hackers stole $100 million worth of crypto, says FBI

$60 million worth of stolen crypto was laundered this month.
Ameya Paleja
Cyber threat from North Korea stock image.
Cyber threat from North Korea stock image.

Dmitry Nogaev/iStock 

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has confirmed that the Lazarus Group, linked to North Korea, was behind the $100 million crypto heist conducted on Horizon Bridge last year, CNBC reported.

Horizon Bridge is a connection between various cryptocurrency systems such as Harmony and Ethereum, Bitcoin, and Binance chain and lets users swap cryptocurrencies between these networks.

In the early days of computing technology, hackers were usually individuals or groups that were looking to make quick money or intended to cause harm to others for personal reasons. Over the years, though, hacker groups have started receiving support from nation-states and have become part of cyber warfare among nations.

During the early days of the Ukraine conflict, hackers supported by Russia brought down or defaced the Ukrainian government websites and even installed destructive malware on them, AP News reported in March 2022. North Korea has been allegedly supporting hackers, but instead of attacking adversaries directly, the country is looking to make money through these operations.

Crypto heists and weapons development

Experts have noticed a strong mismatch between North Korea's trade revenues and the amounts it spends on developing new weapons. In addition to its gross domestic product, North Korea is also strongly suspected to be tapping into cryptocurrency to finance its ambitious goals.

Hacker groups such as Lazarus, also known as APT38, have been successful in taking out cryptocurrencies worth billions of dollars over the past couple of years. Last year, the group attacked the Ronin network, the network used to operate the popular game Axie Infinity and got away with stealing crypto coins worth $600 million.

Backed by North Korea, the Lazarus Group is believed to be a community of over 6,000 hackers.

Attack on Horizon Bridge

Later in June 2022, the blockchain bridge, Horizon, which allows different cryptocurrencies to be swapped, was also attacked, and tokens worth $100 million were estimated to be stolen.

Back then, cybersecurity experts had suggested that the heist was likely conducted by the Lazarus Group, something the FBI has now confirmed. The investigation agency also said that the hackers used the Railgun system this month to launcher $60 million worth of stolen ether tokens.

Although blockchain networks have public ledgers that show display the ownership of the tokens, services like Railgun are used to anonymize the transactions. According to the FBI, a portion of the money stolen during the heist last year was sent to several virtual asset providers and converted to Bitcoin.

The FBI said that it is working to "identify and disrupt the theft and laundering of virtual currency," which is used to support North Korea's ballistic missile development program.

As per a report released in September, decentralized finance (DeFi) lost nearly a billion dollars to North Korea linked-crypto groups. However, with the valuation of cryptocurrencies has fallen in the past year, it remains to be seen how the entire operation remains economically feasible in the long run.

The success rate of the hacking group is also down, having recorded $4.3 billion in heists in 2021.

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