FBI accuses North Korean government hackers of stealing $100 million from Harmony bridge theft

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The FBI accused two groups of North Korean government hackers last year of carrying out the heist of $100 million worth of crypto stolen from a company that allows users to transfer cryptocurrency from one blockchain to another.

On Monday, the FBI announced that the Lazarus Group and APT38 — two groups linked to the North Korean government by both cybersecurity firms and government agencies — are responsible for the June 2022 Horizon Bridge hack, made by US company Harmony. .

Citing cybersecurity experts, Reuters reported last year that North Korea was likely the culprit in the hack, which exploited a vulnerability in the bridge to steal several cryptocurrency assets such as Ethereum, Binance Coin, Tether, USD Coin, and Dai.

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The FBI said that on Jan. 13, the North Korean hackers used RAILGUN, a crypto “privacy protocol,” to launder $60 million in Ethereum stolen from Harmony.

“Part of this stolen ethereum was then sent to various virtual asset service providers and converted into bitcoin (BTC),” the FBI said in its announcement. “Part of these funds were frozen, in conjunction with some of the virtual asset service providers.”

The FBI also published eleven cryptocurrency wallets where the remaining $40 million in stolen bitcoin was moved.

North Korea has a long history of attacking cryptocurrency companies to raise money for the regime, which sees crypto as a way to circumvent international sanctions and fund its nuclear weapons program. Last year, the FBI, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and the US Treasury Department issued an advisory on North Korea’s activities targeting crypto companies.

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According to South Korea’s National Intelligence Agency, North Korea has stolen about $1.2 billion worth of crypto in the past five years, with $626 million in 2022 alone.

Harmony’s Horizon is a so-called blockchain bridge – also known as cross-chain bridges, a tool that allows users to transfer digital assets from one blockchain to another, allowing interoperability between different blockchains created by different companies. Several of these bridges have serious vulnerabilities, making them a favorite target for hackers.

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“Blockchain bridges have become the low-hanging fruit for cybercriminals, with billions of dollars of crypto assets locked inside,” Tom Robinson, co-founder and chief scientist at blockchain analytics firm Elliptic, told TBEN last year. “These bridges have been compromised by hackers in various ways, suggesting that their level of security has not kept pace with the value of the assets they hold.”

Chainalysis, another blockchain analytics firm, estimated that about $1.4 billion was stolen from blockchain bridges last year.

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