North Korean hacking groups stole $721 million worth of crypto from Japan

Between 2017 and 2022, hacker groups affiliated with North Korea alone are estimated to have stolen $721 million worth of crypto from Japan. An Elliptic study found that hackers primarily targeted Japan and Vietnam because operators from these two countries had weak security systems.

Losses in Japan equivalent to 30% of the global total

According to the findings of a study conducted by blockchain intelligence firm Elliptic, North Korea’s coordinated cyber-attacks against Japanese crypto assets have yielded $721 million worth of digital assets between 2022 and 2017. This amount is equivalent to 30% of total global losses attributed to hacker groups affiliated with North Korea.

According to the report by Nikkei Asia, which commissioned the study, the value of stolen crypto assets in Japan alone is 8.8 times higher than North Korea’s export figures in 2021. While the cyber-attackers reportedly attacked multiple countries, the Nikkei report suggested that Japan and Vietnam were particularly targeted due to their fast-growing crypto markets.

It is also suspected that the hackers targeted these two countries because operators there used weak security systems. One of the affected operators or crypto exchange platforms, Zaif, which lost $51.4 million (7 billion yen) in 2018, has since closed.

Crypto exchanges primary target

North Korea, which faces US and UN sanctions, has struggled to obtain the foreign currency it needs. To compensate for this, hacker groups affiliated with Pyongyang, including the Lazarus Group, were tasked with stealing crypto assets for North Korea. For this, the hacker groups have used two types of cyber attacks: hacking and ransomware.

According to the report, North Korean cybercriminals have mainly used hacking because these methods allow Pyongyang to rake in “a massive loot of crypto assets” from just one targeted crypto exchange. The hacking also allows North Korea to obtain foreign currency as the country faces the consequences of the sanctions.

In addition to Japan, the same hacker groups also allegedly attacked the United States and other Asian countries such as Hong Kong. As stated in the report, it is estimated that the hacker groups stole $497 million from the United States and $281 million from Hong Kong.

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