How North Korea Used Crypto to Hack Its Way Through the Pandemic
North Korea’s economy has been ravaged by United Nations sanctions and the coronavirus pandemic. The government has warned of a severe food shortage. An unidentified intestinal disease began spreading among citizens in June. And yet the country has conducted more missile tests this year than in any previous year. The government is giving new luxury homes to party elites. Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s leader, has promised to develop advanced technology for the nation’s growing weapons arsenal. A new nuclear test — the country’s seventh — is expected to happen any moment. Where has the money come from? In April, the United States identified a key part of the puzzle when it publicly accused North Korean hackers of stealing $620 million in cryptocurrency from the video game Axie Infinity. The theft, one of the largest of its kind, provided the strongest evidence that cryptocurrency heists have become a highly lucrative yet relatively risk-free way for North Korea to raise funds to buttress the regime during the pandemic and to finance its weapons development.