U.S. Treasury Sanctions North Korean Hackers Behind Bitcoin Thefts

by Sunny Hoi

The U.S. Department of the Treasury has imposed sanctions on North Korea’s well-known state-sponsored cybercrime team Lazarus Group, which American authorities assert to have assisted the Pyongyang regime raise funds for its weapons and missile programs.

Lazarus Group is known to have stolen more than $500 million from Bitcoin exchanges around the globe.

The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions targeting Lazarus Group and two other smaller hacking groups – Bluenoroff and Andariel – all controlled by North Korea’s primary intelligence bureau called the Reconnaissance General Bureau (RGB).

According to a United Nations report released last month, North Korea made roughly $2 billion by hacking cryptocurrency exchanges and mainstream financial institutions. North Korea has been deploying the stolen cryptocurrency funds to finance its nuclear and missile program.

The Lazarus Group’s WannaCry ransomware attacks occurred two years ago. The average ransom fee related to the cyberattack was Bitcoin worth roughly $300.

By May 2017, amalgamated losses from at least 150 nations were approximated to have reached $4 billion.

The three hacking groups are considered to be responsible for a considerable number of cryptocurrency exchange thefts, particularly in Asia.

Between the first quarter of 2017 and the third quarter of 2018, these state-sponsored hackers stole cryptocurrency worth approximately $571 million from five Asia-based Bitcoin exchanges.

Since 2014, Bluenoroff has deployed a range of strategies to successfully steal more than $1 billion from global financial institutions such as by launching cyberattacks against the SWIFT messaging system.

According to the Treasury, Andariel was described by cybersecurity companies as trying to steal bank card data by hacking into automated teller machines (ATMs) to withdraw cash or steal customer data to subsequently sell on the digital black market.

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