North Korean hackers steal $620m in Ethereum crypto ‘to help fund Kim Jong Un’s nuclear programme’

North Korean hackers steal $620MILLION worth of Ethereum cryptocurrency from US video game ‘to help fund Kim Jong Un’s nuclear weapons programme’

  • Almost $615million (£470m) stolen in audacious gaming crypto heist last month 
  • Washington: Kim Jong Un exploits crypto insecurity to fund nuclear weapons
  • D.C. says North Korean hackers Lazarus controlled by Kim’s intelligence bureau 
  • U.S. Treasury: ‘DPRK using cybercrime to generate revenue for its WMDs’ 
  • Same cybercriminals were behind NHS hack and plot to stop film The Interview

Hackers tied to Kim Jong Un were behind a $615million cryptocurrency heist to fund North Korean nuclear weapons, the U.S. government has said.

Players of online game Axie Infinity lost more than half a billion dollars in Ethereum and other cryptos last month after Pyongyang hackers swooped in. 

The FBI and the U.S. Treasury Department yesterday identified North Korea’s shadowy hacker group Lazarus as the cybercriminals responsible for the March 23 theft.

Lazarus is controlled by Kim Jong Un’s personal CIA the Pyongyang Reconnaissance General Bureau, according to Washington. 

Axie players can earn cryptos by playing the game or selling their avatars. 

The FBI claims the Lazarus hackers are tied to Kim’s intelligence bureau (Pyongyang file image)

A Treasury Department spokesperson said North Korea is using the insecurity of crypto transactions to fund its missile programmes.

They said: ‘The United States is aware that [North Korea] has increasingly relied on illicit activities – including cybercrime – to generate revenue for its weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs as it tries to evade robust U.S. and U.N. sanctions.’  

The spokesperson warned those transacting with the wallet risk exposure to U.S. sanctions.

The same hackers broke into the NHS in 2017, cancelling almost 20,000 appointments. 

Lazarus are also thought to be behind the 2014 Sony hack to halt the release of anti-Kim comedy The Interview.

Players of online game Axie Infinity lost more than $600million in cryptos including Ethereum

Players of online game Axie Infinity lost more than $600million in cryptos including Ethereum

Aleksander Larsen, the co-founder of Axie Infinity maker Sky Mavis declined to comment.

CrowdStrike, which was hired by Sky Mavis to investigate the breach, also declined comment.

A person familiar with the matter confirmed North Korean hackers had been the focus of the cybersecurity firms’ investigation for the past couple of weeks.

Blockchain analytics firms Chainalysis and Elliptic reiterated North Korea was behind the break-in.

The United States is pushing the U.N. Security Council to blacklist the Lazarus Group and freeze its assets, according to a draft resolution reviewed by Reuters on Wednesday.

Hacks have long plagued crypto platforms. The hack on Axie Infinity platform Ronin was one of the largest cryptocurrency heists on record.

Sky Mavis said it would use a combination of its own balance sheet funds and $150million raised from investors including Binance to reimburse the lost money.

The Justice Department charged hacker Jon Chang Hyok after an FBI manhunt (warrant image)

The Justice Department charged hacker Jon Chang Hyok after an FBI manhunt (warrant image)

They said: ‘We are still in the process of adding additional security measures before redeploying the Ronin Bridge to mitigate future risk. Expect the bridge to be deployed by end of month.’

The Treasury spokesperson said Washington will look to publish crypto cybersecurity guidelines to aid in the effort to protect against stolen virtual currency.

Last year the Justice Department charged three North Koreans with the NHS ransomware attack.

The February 2021 indictment charged Jon Chang Hyok, Kim Il and Park Jin Hyok with crimes including conspiracy to commit wire and bank fraud.

And this week an American crypto whiz was jailed for five years after teaching North Koreans how to evade U.S. sanctions.

Virgil Griffith, 39, taught more than 100 people how to use blockchain technology to get around international restrictions at a crypto conference in Pyongyang three years ago.

Many of the businesses and people he trained are thought to have worked for the North Korean government.