South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) state-sponsored North Korean hackers have stolen 1.5 trillion won ($1.2 billion) in virtual assets throughout the world since 2017, including over 800 billion won ($626 million) this year alone. South Korea alone lost more than 100 billion won ($78 million) this year, reported AP.
At a press conference on Thursday, Baek Jong-wook, the third director of the NIS, stated that when North Korean leader Kim Jong Un signaled the necessity for cyberattacks, hackers working for the regime began activities.
Given that North Korea has previously performed cyberattacks such as hacking in conjunction with nuclear testing, the NIS predicts that North Korea would launch a large-scale cyberattack prior to and following the seventh nuclear test, which is said to be approaching.
North Korea and the business of cybercrime
Several world nations have been accusing North Korea of cyber-profiteering, mostly monitored or executed by the Lazarus Group, a covert cybercrime group under the aegis of the government of North Korea.
There is limited intelligence on the threat group, which is made up of an unknown number of individuals. However, researchers blame them for many cyberattacks that happened between 2010 and 2021.
For South Korea, cyber-attacks from its neighbor happen due to economic, defence, and political reasons. The NIS has warned that it expects North Korea to launch a large-scale cyberattack before and after its imminent seventh nuclear test.
Speaking at the press conference, Baek Jong-wook, the NIS’s third director, alleged that hackers working for the regime have intensified their operations following North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s recent call for cyberattacks.
The NIS reported over 1.18 million hacking attempts from abroad in the past month alone. In response, it opened the National Cyber Security Center, a public-private joint task force, on 30 November.
Virtual assets and ransomware
The NIS said that North Korea is profiting from hacking financial institutions, stealing virtual assets and spreading ransomware news it uses to make threats. The NIS warned that North Korea is likely to target “Web 3.0” platforms such as NFT and metaverse. It is estimated that the regime earned KRW 800 billion ($6 million) globally from cyberattacks.
Coincidentally, this is the amount South Korea alone lost in damages due to cyber-attacks by North Korea in 2013, according to data from the South’s Defence Ministry, cited by Representative Chung Hee-soo of the national congress.
There were more than 6,000 incidents launched by North Korea between 2010 and 2013, according to Chung. In March 2013, six South Korean banks were targeted, causing 30,000 computers to be affected and disrupting financial services nationwide.
The South Korean president’s website was also brought down in a summer offensive that year. Despite their unsophisticated nature, North Korean cyber-attacks are known for their impact, and Chung called for greater resources and professionals to counter them.