North Korea stole a lot of crypto in 2021

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Think of all those hard at work GPUs, dreaming of playing videogames and bringing joy when instead they’ve been sent to the crypto mines. Some were even lifted in transport (opens in new tab), deprived of loving gaming homes and sold on darker markets. But between destroying the environment and the video card, people are usually involved in crypto-mining to try to make money. Apparently to make North Korea hackers crazy rich, a bit like Norton's preinstalled cyrpto miner does for it (opens in new tab), rather than the owner.

In a report by ChainAlysis (opens in new tab) (Thanks, IFL Science (opens in new tab)) it’s expected that North Korean hackers made off with at least $400 million USD worth of digital assets over the course of the past year, and they're unlikely to give any of it back like some other hackers (opens in new tab).

According to the report, 2021 was hugely successful for those wanting to grift in the cyber crime scene, especially in North Korea where the profit of stolen crypto went up over 40% from the previous year. Most of the crypto involved was Ether, making up nearly 60% of the total stolen. This was followed by Bitcoin at closer to 20% and the rest seemed to be mostly Ethereum based. 

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Funnily enough, they’re not using it to invest in any ugly monkey NFTs as rats can often smell the same. Instead, the crypto is later laundered to other currencies and wallets before eventually being converted back into some form of Earth money used in regular shops.

Thankfully the cyber criminals make most of their cash targeting mostly investment firms and centralised exchanges, meaning it’s less likely for smaller targets to be worth bothering with. 

It’s believed the hackers behind most of these heists could be the Lazarus Group, which is known to have ties with the North Korean government. You might remember back in 2010 when the James Franko and Seth Rogen comedy The Interview was set to come out and there was huge controversy. This was mostly due to the Lazarus Group hacking Sony Pictures Entertainment trying to get the film canned. Saying it now it almost feels like a joke, but yeah those are the people who could be sitting on hundreds of millions of dollars.

The investigation also uncovered that despite all this laundering, North Korea is still sitting on around $170 million of crypto. Chainalysis claims that all of this points to an organised effort by the country to indulge in crypto-crime. 

“These behaviors, put together, paint a portrait of a nation that supports cryptocurrency-enabled crime on a massive scale. Systematic and sophisticated, North Korea’s government – be it through the Lazarus Group or its other criminal syndicates – has cemented itself as an advanced persistent threat to the cryptocurrency industry in 2021,” Chainalysis said in a blog post. 

Hope Corrigan
Hardware Writer

Hope’s been writing about games for about a decade, starting out way back when on the Australian Nintendo fan site Since then, she’s talked far too much about games and tech for publications such as Techlife, Byteside, IGN, and GameSpot. Of course there’s also here at PC Gamer, where she gets to indulge her inner hardware nerd with news and reviews. You can usually find Hope fawning over some art, tech, or likely a wonderful combination of them both and where relevant she’ll share them with you here. When she’s not writing about the amazing creations of others, she’s working on what she hopes will one day be her own. You can find her fictional chill out ambient far future sci-fi radio show/album/listening experience podcast (opens in new tab) right here.

No, she’s not kidding.