Created by a Vietnamese gaming studio, Axie Infinity offers players the chance to breed, trade and fight Pokémon-like cartoon monsters to earn cryptocurrencies including the game’s own “Smooth Love Potion” digital token. At one stage, it had more than a million active players. But earlier this year, the network of blockchains that underpin the game’s virtual world was raided by a North Korean hacking syndicate, which made off with roughly $620mn in the ether cryptocurrency. The crypto heist, one of the largest of its kind in history, was confirmed by the FBI, which vowed to “continue to expose and combat [North Korea’s] use of illicit activities — including cyber crime and cryptocurrency theft — to generate revenue for the regime”. The successful crypto heists illustrate North Korea’s growing sophistication as a malign cyber actor. Western security agencies and cyber security companies treat it is as one of the world’s four principal nation state-based cyber threats, alongside China, Russia, and Iran. According to a UN panel of experts monitoring the implementation of international sanctions, money raised by North Korea’s criminal cyber operations are helping to fund the country’s illicit ballistic missile and nuclear programmes. Anne Neuberger, US deputy national security adviser for cyber security, said in July that North Korea “uses cyber to gain, we estimate, up to a third of their funds for their missile programme”.
Full analysis : How North Korea became a mastermind of crypto cyber crime.