North Korea has greatly increased its focus on the crypto industry since 2017, stealing over $3 billion in digital assets, according to cybersecurity firm Recorded Future.
The firm says that the North Korean regime has a “highly trained cadre of computer science professionals” with privileged access to new technology and information.
State-backing allows the country’s hacking campaigns to scale to bigger lengths than regular cybercrime operations, the firm says.
Out of the $3 billion in crypto stolen by the regime, $1.7 billion of it was taken in 2022 alone, accounting for 44% of all the cryptocurrency stolen during that year.
Recorded Future says those funds could have funded 50% of North Korea’s ballistic missile programs.
In total, the firm says the funds the country gathers from its crypto thefts are equal to 5% of its total economy. The money, which is often laundered in the same way traditional cybercriminal groups do, allows the regime to continue operating despite international sanctions.
Says the firm,
“The regime views cryptocurrency theft as a major revenue source, particularly for funding military and weapons programs. While the exact amount used for ballistic missile launches is unclear, both the volume of stolen cryptocurrency and missile launches have risen.
Without stronger regulations, cybersecurity measures, and investments in cybersecurity for cryptocurrency firms, North Korea is likely to persist in targeting the industry for additional revenue. Despite restrictions on movement and isolation of the general population, the regime’s elite and highly trained computer science professionals with privileged access to technology play a crucial role in conducting cyberattacks against the cryptocurrency industry.”