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US seeks to seize 280 cryptocurrency accounts tied to NK

Kim Il-sung Square in Pyongyang (AFP-Yonhap)
Kim Il-sung Square in Pyongyang (AFP-Yonhap)

The US government sought on Thursday to seize 280 cryptocurrency accounts believed to have ties to North Korean hackers who stole cryptocurrencies worth millions of dollars from two virtual exchanges and tried to launder the funds through Chinese traders.

In a civil forfeiture complaint, the US Justice Department linked the cybertheft to North Korea and referred as well to a UN Panel of Experts report that said state-backed North Korean hackers stole about $500 million from at least five exchanges in Asia in 2017 and 2018.

The Justice Department came to learn about the 280 accounts while probing into an earlier complaint it had filed in March seeking to seize 146 accounts linked to stolen cryptocurrencies by North Korean hackers.

Two Chinese nationals were charged at the time with laundering more than $100 million in cryptocurrency for North Korea.

Court filings showed that US authorities believed Pyongyang was funding hackers to bypass international sanctions on its nuclear and missile programs.

“Today’s action publicly exposes the ongoing connections between North Korea’s cyber-hacking program and a Chinese cryptocurrency money laundering network,” acting Assistant Attorney General Brian Rabbitt of the Justice Department’s criminal division said in a statement.

The attorney general affirmed that authorities would continue to hold the North Korean hackers responsible for their cybertheft and seek to return unlawful gains.

Also this week, multiple US federal agencies including the Treasury Department and FBI warned that North Korean hackers have resumed robbing banks across the globe by draining cash from ATMs in fraudulent money transfers.

The bank heist campaign is also largely seen as propping up the cash-strapped regime and bankrolling its nuclear weapons program.

“North Korean cyber actors have demonstrated an imaginative knack for adjusting their tactics to exploit the financial sector as well as any other sector through illicit cyber operations,” Bryan Ware, a senior cybersecurity official at the US Homeland Security Department, said in a statement.

By Choi Si-young (siyoungchoi@heraldcorp.com)
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