Estonian crypto service falls victim to North Korean hackers

The funds stolen from Atomic Wallet customers may exceed $35m

North Korean hackers are suspected of orchestrating a major cryptocurrency heist, with experts suggesting that at least $35m has been stolen from a prominent crypto service.

This incident is part of a series of hacks targeting cryptocurrency companies associated with Pyongyang, raising concerns among US officials about the funds being used to support North Korea's nuclear and ballistic weapons programs.

The targeted company, Atomic Wallet, an Estonia-based firm boasting 5m users of its software, acknowledged the breach on June 3, stating that less than 1% of its monthly users appeared to be affected. However, the exact amount stolen and the identity of the hackers have not been disclosed by the company, CNN reported.

Several victims of the hack took to Twitter, pleading with the hackers to return their money, sharing their cryptocurrency addresses in hopes of sympathy from the perpetrators. This approach has become somewhat of a trend among victims of such attacks.

North Korean hackers have reportedly pilfered billions of dollars from banks and cryptocurrency firms over the past few years, serving as a crucial revenue stream for the regime.

Elliptic, a London-based crypto-tracking firm, analyzed the money-laundering techniques and tools employed in this recent incident and found them to align with typical North Korean behavior.

ZachXBT, an independent cryptocurrency tracker, affirmed that North Korean hackers were highly likely to be responsible for the Atomic Wallet hack. As investigations continue, the confirmed amount stolen could surpass the initial estimate of $35m.

The analyst drew parallels between this event and the Harmony funds laundering in January, where $100m was stolen from a California-based company. The FBI attributed the Harmony hack to North Korea, and efforts were made to recover a portion of the stolen funds through the collaboration of private investigators and South Korean intelligence agents. South Korea even imposed sanctions and blacklisted four individuals allegedly involved in crypto theft activities linked to North Korea's Lazarus Group.

Given that cyberattacks and cryptocurrency theft have reportedly funded approximately half of North Korea's missile program, the Biden administration has made countering these activities a top national security priority.

At the beginning of April, a report by the United Nations Security Council revealed that North Korea stole an estimated $1bn worth of cryptocurrency in 2022, with the funds being used to support the country's weapons programs. The UN highlighted the increasing technological capabilities of North Korean hackers and the challenges posed by the anonymity and ease of movement of stolen cryptocurrency.

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Written by Silvia Pavlof

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