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UN Experts Report North Korea Laundered $147.5 Million in Stolen Crypto in March

According to a confidential United Nations report reviewed by Reuters, North Korea funneled $147.5 million through the cryptocurrency mixer platform Tornado Cash in March 2024. This move is part of a broader pattern of cyber thefts targeting digital currency platforms, with North Korea implicated in numerous attacks over recent years.

The UN sanctions monitors, investigating North Korea’s extensive history of cyberattacks on cryptocurrency exchanges, reported this finding. North Korea, often referred to by its official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), has been engaging in these cyber operations to evade international sanctions and fund its restricted nuclear and missile programs.

The $147.5 million laundered through Tornado Cash in March was linked to a significant breach at the HTX cryptocurrency exchange late last year. This activity is part of a continued effort by North Korea to secure funding through illicit means, using sophisticated cyber tactics.

The laundering event took place in March 2024, and it has been a part of ongoing investigations covering suspected North Korean cyberattacks from 2017 to 2024. These cyber operations have collectively netted approximately $3.6 billion in stolen funds, according to UN monitors.

The report focuses on global cybersecurity and financial networks but highlights specific incidents, such as the breach at the HTX exchange and the laundering activities through Tornado Cash, a platform sanctioned by the US in 2022 for its role in facilitating these types of illicit transactions.

North Korea’s cyber activities are primarily motivated by the need to fund its sanctioned nuclear and missile programs. The country has turned to cybercrime as a significant source of revenue, exploiting the relative anonymity of cryptocurrency systems and the effectiveness of mixing services to obscure the origins of stolen funds.

North Korea’s strategy involves using highly skilled IT workers operating abroad, many of whom are ostensibly employed by small crypto-related companies. These workers contribute to the regime’s cybercrime efforts, generating substantial revenue that supports North Korea’s economic needs amid international sanctions.

The report also noted ongoing maritime activities suggesting arms trade between North Korea and Russia, and the potential military cooperation between the two nations. This includes suspicions of North Korean ships traveling between its port of Rajin and Russian ports like Vladivostok and Vostochny, further indicating the depth of Pyongyang’s involvement in global illicit activities.

This latest revelation from the UN monitors underlines the complex challenge of curbing North Korea’s cyber-enabled financial strategies and highlights the broader implications for global security and the enforcement of international sanctions.

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