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South Korea new sanctions target North Korea’s digital asset hackers

South Korea has taken the initiative against marauding digital asset bad actors operating in neighboring North Korea following the imposition of a slew of sanctions.

The sanctions were announced by Seoul’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in an effort to stifle the activities of state-sponsored hacking groups from North Korea. Four North Korean individuals were named in the announcement while seven institutions made the list for their roles in financing North Korea’s missile development.”

“The South Korean government has decided to take specific measures to counter illegal cyber activities, which are one of North Korea’s main sources of funding for nuclear and missile development,” read the Ministry’s statement.

The sanctioned individuals include Park Jin-hyok, Jo Myong-rae, Oh Chung-Seong, and Song Rim. South Korean officials identify Jin-hyok as having extensive ties with the Lazarus Group and participating in the ransomware attacks Sony Pictures and WannaCry in 2014 and 2017, respectively.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) placed Park on its wanted list, while the United States Treasury blacklisted him in 2018, and authorized law enforcement agencies to seize his assets.

The new sanctions were announced hours after the U.S. and South Korean security agencies released a joint cybersecurity Advisory targeted against North Korea. Security outfits in both countries chronicled the tactics and techniques used by North Korean hacking groups.

Given the slew of economic sanctions against North Korea, stolen digital assets make up the bulk of its foreign reserve, which the rogue nation uses to fund its nuclear programs.

Leaving behind a trail of losses

Data from South Korean investigators indicates that state-sponsored North Korean hacking gangs have pilfered over $1.2 billion worth of digital assets since 2017. Meanwhile, 2022 appeared to be a great year for the hackers as they recorded over $626 million in gains, dwarfing the country’s annual export of less than $100 million.

The typical modus operandi of the hacking gangs includes phishing attacks to hijack the administrator account or malware attacks with the end game of demanding digital assets or leaking sensitive details of users.

Companies have been advised to carry out thorough background searches on potential employees to avoid hiring sleeper North Korean citizens working for the government. The hackers gain employment in a developed company as IT workers using fake identities and proceed to breach internal security protocols leading to losses for the organization.

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