SEOUL, South Korea North Korean hackers have stolen an estimated 1.5 trillion won ($1.2 billion) in cryptocurrency and other virtual assets in the past five years, more than half of it this year alone.
Experts and officials say North Korea has turned to crypto hacking and other illicit cyber activities as a source of badly needed foreign currency to support its fragile economy and fund its nuclear program following harsh U.N. sanctions and the COVID-19 pandemic.
South Korea’s main spy agency, the National Intelligence Service, said North Korea’s capacity to steal digital assets is considered among the best in the world because of the country’s focus on cybercrimes since U.N. economic sanctions were toughened in 2017 in response to its nuclear and missile tests
The U.N. sanctions imposed in 2016-17 ban key North Korean exports such as coal, textiles, and seafood and also led member states to repatriate North Korean overseas workers. Its economy suffered further setbacks after it imposed some of the world’s most draconian restrictions against the pandemic.
It said North Korean hackers are expected to conduct more cyberattacks next year to steal advanced South Korean technologies and confidential information on South Korean foreign policy and national security
Earlier this month, senior diplomats from the United States, South Korea, and Japan agreed to increase efforts to curb illegal North Korean cyber activities. In February, a panel of U.N. experts said North Korea was continuing to steal hundreds of millions of dollars from financial institutions and cryptocurrency firms, and exchanges.