According to a study conducted by blockchain analytics firm Elliptic, Japan has suffered the most significant losses in cryptocurrency due to North Korean hackers. The study, commissioned by Japanese financial publication Nikkei, examined the period from 2017 to 2022 and considered both hacking and ransomware attacks originating from North Korea. Elliptic identified Japan as one of the primary targets, along with other Asian countries.
The report revealed that Japan incurred losses of $721 million in these attacks, representing 30% of the global total of over $2.3 billion. Notably, this amount is estimated based on the approximate loss of $640 million in cryptocurrency in 2022 alone. The United Nations has reported a surge in North Korean crypto theft in 2022, and Nikkei highlighted the significant impact on Japan:
“According to the Japan External Trade Organization, the $721 million stolen from Japan is 8.8 times greater than the value of North Korea’s exports in 2021.”
Vietnam ranked as the second most targeted country, experiencing losses of $540 million during the same period. The United States followed in third place with $497 million in losses, while Hong Kong trailed behind with losses totaling $281 million.
Elliptic attributed the hackers’ focus on Japan and Vietnam to lax security within their respective cryptocurrency markets. Nikkei reported that at least three Japanese crypto exchanges had been breached between 2018 and 2021, underscoring the vulnerabilities in the Japanese market.
The North Korean Lazarus Group, known for its involvement in major crypto heists such as the Ronin Bridge exploit and the Harmony Bridge hack, has been behind many of these attacks. North Korean hackers have also been accused of stealing nonfungible tokens (NFTs) and laundering the stolen funds through decentralized finance services and crypto mixers.