From Crypto to Nukes: How North Korea Used $3 Billion to Advance Its Weapons Program

North Korean hackers have pilfered billions to finance their weapons program, with crypto entities targeted and Russian firms possibly aiding in laundering the proceeds.
Crypto, Voice of Crypto 

Key Insights

  • North Korean hackers stole billions, especially in 2021, to fund its weapons development program.

  • The UN reports that crypto companies, DeFi protocols, and individual investors were by far the most targeted.

  • Russian companies may be helping launder stolen crypto for North Korea in exchange for resources.

  • The hackers have successfully laundered a considerable percentage of the $3.6 billion total, with more likely to follow.

North Korean hacker syndicates like the Lazarus Group have long been a thorn in the crypto industry.

Over the last few years, these hackers have amassed billions of dollars through hacks and scams targeting major crypto exchanges and wealthy individuals.

And according to several recent reports, North Korea has accumulated a staggering $3 billion from these hacks—which have so far been used to create weapons of mass destruction.

The Victims of Cyber Scams

Investigations from reputable blockchain analytics firms like Chainalysis and CertiK, and even a recent report from the U.N., have shed light on nearly a decade of crypto companies, defi protocols, and average investors falling prey to sophisticated hacks from North Korean hackers.

The revenue from these attacks, worth an eye-watering $3.6 billion according to the United Nations, has now gone towards directly fueling the country’s weapons development program.

The report from the U.N. Security Council sanctions committee investigated nearly 100 suspected cyberattacks from North Korea between 2017 and 2024, showing that these hackers have targeted platforms and crypto-affiliated users and companies.

Chainalysis data even shows that North Korean hackers stole almost $400 million worth of assets from crypto platforms in 2021 alone, mainly in the form of ether.

According to Chainalysis, Ethereum accounted for about 58% of the stolen funds, while Bitcoin accounted for 20%.

Innovations in Cyber Warfare

Earlier this year, cybersecurity firm Kaspersky reported that another North Korean hacking group called Kimsuky used a new malware variant called "Durian" to attack at least two South Korean crypto companies.

This came amid an earlier report from April when ZachXBT reported that the Lazarus group had successfully laundered over $200 million in stolen crypto between 2020 and 2023.

Scam Sniffer also reported in March that there is a growing trend of social media hacks on platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and even LinkedIn. These hackers post phishing links, luring victims with the promise of airdrops and lucrative investments.

Russia and North Korea

Reuters reports that there has been an ongoing collaboration between Russia and North Korea since 2021.

“The U.S. sanctioned Tornado Cash in 2022 over accusations it supports North Korea.

Two of its co-founders were charged in 2023 with facilitating more than $1 billion in money laundering, including for a cybercrime group linked to North Korea.”

In a blog post published on September 14 last year, Chainalysis noted that one of the Russian exchanges "known for processing illicit transactions" recently received about $22 million in crypto taken from Harmony Protocol.

Recall that Harmony Protocol was exploited for around $100 million in June 2022.

Chainalysis claimed to have proof that "North Korean entities have been using Russian services" to launder cryptocurrency for the past two years, even though it did not identify the crypto exchange In question.

So far, this alliance has seen North Korea steal upwards of $3 billion from crypto-affiliated exchanges and individuals, with nearly $1 billion already laundered and used to fund projects like Nuclear weapon systems, illegal arms, coal, and several other commodities.

Disclaimer: Voice of Crypto aims to deliver accurate and up-to-date information but will not be responsible for any missing facts or inaccurate information. Cryptocurrencies are highly volatile financial assets, so research and make your own financial decisions.

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