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U.S. seeks 280 cryptocurrency accounts linked to North Korean hacking scheme

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Aug. 27 (UPI) — The United States said it is seeking to seize 280 cryptocurrency accounts Chinese nationals used to launder money stolen by North Korean hackers from virtual currency exchanges.

The civil forfeiture complaint filed on Thursday came after the Justice Department accused North Korean hackers in early March of stealing $250 million in cryptocurrency from a South Korean-based virtual currency exchange in 2018 and charged two Chinese nationals with laundering more than $100 million from that hack.

In the March complaint, prosecutors tied the North Korean hackers to a second theft of about $48.5 million worth of virtual currency from another South Korea-based currency exchange in November of last year.

In Thursday’s complaint, prosecutors detailed two more related hacks of virtual currency exchanges in 2019 — one in July and the other in September.

In the first heist, the North Korean hackers are accused of stealing more than $272,000 in cryptocurrencies and tokens and laundering it through several intermediary addresses and other virtual currency exchanges in the subsequent months to obfuscate the funds’ origins.

In the second hack, North Korea-associated actors are accused of gaining access to the virtual currency wallets of a U.S.-based company and stealing nearly $2.5 million that was then funneled through 100 accounts at another virtual currency exchange.

The Justice Department said in a statement on Thursday that one group of Chinese cryptocurrency traders is responsible for laundering the money stolen from these hacks.

“Today’s action publicly exposes the ongoing connections between North Korea’s cyber-hacking program and a Chinese cryptocurrency money laundering network,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian C. Rabbitt of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “This case underscores the department’s ongoing commitment to counter the threat presented by North Korean cyber hackers by exposing their criminal networks and tracing and seizing their ill-gotten gains.”

Prosecutors have said the North Korean government launches sophisticated attacks to steal funds from financial institutions and cryptocurrency exchanges to generate income in evasion of sanctions.

According to a U.N. Security Council report from August of last year, the frequency and scope of North Korea’s cyberattacks have increased since 2008 and last year the reclusive country “shifted focus to targeting cryptocurrency exchanges,” some of which have been attacked multiple times.

The Justice Department said that despite the sophisticated laundering techniques employed to hide the stolen money, federal agents continue to locate the stolen funds.

“Although North Korea is unlikely to stop trying to pillage the international financial sector to fund a failed economic and political regime, actions like those today send a powerful message to the private sector and foreign governments regarding the benefits of working with us to counter this threat,” said John C. Demers, assistant attorney general of the Justice Department’s National Security Division.

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