North Korean hackers made off with nearly $41 million worth of cryptocurrencies from an online casino and sports betting site this week — money officials worry will be used to bolster the country’s nuclear weapons program ahead of an expected arms deal with Russia.
The FBI announced on Wednesday it had traced the hack of Stake.com back to North Korea and its state-sponsored Lazarus Group, which has stolen more than $200 million in cryptocurrencies over the past year alone.
In 2022, blockchain analytics company Chainalysis found it had stolen a whopping $3.8 billion from crypto business.
“In recent years, there has been a marked size and scale of cyber attacks against cryptocurrency-related businesses by North Korea,” blockchain intelligence firm TRM Labs reported in June.
“This has coincided with an apparent acceleration in the country’s nuclear and ballistic missile program.”
Even more concerning for US officials is the fact that this latest exploit came just days before North Korea leader Kim Jung-Un’s expected meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, when the two world leaders are expected to iron out an arms deal to help Russia in its ongoing invasion of Ukraine.
The White House has previously warned that North Korea was shipping artillery shells and rockets to Russia, and were set to negotiate for more arms deals.
Then just last month, North Korean state media reported that Kim and Putin were exchanging letters in which they pleaded to expand “bilateral cooperation in all fields” and build a “longstanding strategic relationship in conformity with the demand of the new era.”
It is unclear what exactly Kim may offer Putin as the war in Ukraine continues, but analysts say the recent cryptocurrency hacks have given the communist country some funds it could use to build up its weapons cache.
In the most recent hack, Lazarus Group stole $16 million in Ether, as well as stable coins like USDT, USDC and DAI.
That was followed by another $25 million withdrawals of MATIC and BNB tokens.
Stake.com co-founder Edward Craven told DL News it was a “sophisticated breach” that exploited a service the casino uses to authorize crypto transactions.
The company halted deposits and withdrawals following the breach, but reinstated both functions shortly thereafter, and is continuing to operate.
The FBI is now advising the public to “be vigilant in guarding against transactions directly with, or derived from, those addresses.”
Meanwhile, the Biden administration is warning North Korea that it will “pay a price” if it moves forward with a deal to provide arms to Russia.
White House National Security Advisor made the remarks at a press briefing on Tuesday, when asked about reports that Kim and Putin would meet in person.
“[This] is not going to reflect well on North Korea, and they will pay a price for this in the international community,” he said.
“We will continue to call on North Korea to abide by its public commitments not to supply weapons to Russia that will end up killing Ukrainians.”
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