North Korea Now a Threat for Cyber Attacks on Crypto

The Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, and the U.S. Treasury Department came out together to issue a rare joint warning about North Korea. The hermit kingdom has been honing its hacking skills and has its sights set on taking over the cryptocurrency markets to keep the tiny nation afloat. The warning was issued on April 18th and was the result of Pyongyang-connected Lazarus Group pulling off a $620 million crypto heist.

Their advisory is meant to “highlight the cyber threat associated with cryptocurrency thefts and tactics used by a North Korean state-sponsored advanced persistent threat (APT) group since at least 2020…The U.S. government has observed North Korean cyber actors targeting a variety of organizations in the blockchain technology and cryptocurrency industry.” These are coming in various ways but there is one especially critical method of attack.

Their most successful tactic is known as spear-phishing. In emails to people who believe they are prospective applicants to cryptocurrency firms, they look just like a recruitment effort and offer incredibly high-paying jobs to entice them into downloading the infected files. However, this isn’t their only tactic. They are also embedding these codes within play-to-earn videogames like racing games, slots, and themed games that people find addicting. 

In the case of their recent $620 million heists, Lazarus Group targeted the Ethereum blockchain network of people who play Axis Infinity. Their successful theft is the largest crypto theft in history according to the crypto security company Comparitech. It also brings to light the fears of many who are refusing to get into cryptocurrencies. The ability to have your savings swiped out in a flash with no warning and nothing to insure your deposits leaves many very insecure.

However, there is a way around this. Not keeping your crypto wallet in exchanges, and all funded online. The ability to put $20 or $2 billion on a single flash drive is a beautiful thing. The people getting this level of crypto taken from them did not play by those rules. Leaving that kind of money visible to others becomes a target. Sitting there proclaiming “come and get me” to others is something that attracts the worst in people, and this group from North Korea is one of the worst for taking advantage of these moments.

The advisory also stated, “These actors will likely continue exploiting vulnerabilities of cryptocurrency technology firms, gaming companies, and exchanges to generate and launder funds to support the North Korean regime.” This warning isn’t surprising either as they had previously taken $400 million across 2021 per Comparitech. While the most recent heist is a significant increase in their level of theft, it also leaves some questions about the future of crypto.

Are the North Koreans getting better at stealing crypto, are we missing opportunities to fix security patches, or are these game users just being incredibly lazy? There is a strong likelihood of any or even all three of these possible scenarios. This kind of security lapse is something that the global economy cannot allow to happen. The idea behind crypto is based on how safe it is. If a country like North Korea can steal crypto with their ancient technology and their horrific track record for advancements, then other more advanced countries like China and Russia could do even worse damage with little difficulty.

This responsibility of course lies with these different crypto exchanges to secure their activities, or risk losing more customers as time goes on. The last thing many of them and most people want is more government oversight. The idea of having politicians more involved goes against the very principle behind cryptocurrency in the first place. The idea of safe and secure transactions without Uncle Sam looking in to take is cut is why it has become so popular, and it will stay popular as long as we keep them out of it.