Study estimates North Korean hackers have stolen $721m in crypto from Japan since 2017, one-third of global total
North Korean hackers have stolen $721 million (£579m) in cryptocurrency from Japan since 2017, the Nikkei business journal has reported, citing figures from UK blockchain analysis firm Elliptic.
The figures, compiled by Elliptic on behalf of Nikkei, found that North Korean hackers had stolen a total of $2.3bn in cryptocurrency from 2017 to 2022.
Japan was the largest single target, accounting for 30 percent of the worldwide total, followed by Vietnam with $540m the US with $497m and Hong Kong with $281m.
Elliptic estimated the hackers stole a total of $640m in 2022 alone.
The figures follow a UN report on the issue last month that found crypto theft had doubled since 2021.
In a joint statement released on Saturday by the Group of Seven finance ministers and central bank governors in Japan, officials said they support measures to counter the “growing threat from illicit activities by state actors”, including crypto theft.
Japan has created a favourable regulatory environment for cryptocurrency, with crypto payments firm Triple-A estimating that some 4 percent of the population, or 5 million people, own digital assets.
Last week the US administration estimated about half of North Korea’s missile programme has been funded by cyberattacks and cryptocurrency theft.
Anne Neuberger, deputy national security adviser for cyber and emerging technology, told an event that a US federal government effort is ongoing to understand how “a country like [North Korea] is so darn creative in this space”.
US intelligence agencies are working to identify North Korean operatives and the US Treasury is tracing stolen cryptocurrency, Neuberger said.
The Justice Department last month charged a North Korean Foreign Trade Bank representative with an elaborate money laundering scheme that involved employees of US crypto firms to turn stolen cryptocurrency into cash.
Separately US authorities also sanctioned two Chinese nationals, one from Hong Kong and another from the mainland, who it said had also laundered cryptocurrency for the North Korean regime.
The US maintains North Korean hackers stole some $625m from Ronin Network last year in the biggest crypto heist to date.