The U.S. Army has revealed that North Korea has a number of divisions dedicated to cryptocurrency and related cybercrimes.
A report unveiled by the U.S. Army reveals that North Korea now has more than 6,000 hackers stationed in countries such as Belarus, China, India, Malaysia, Russia, among others.
The operations of four sub divisions are overseen by Bureau 121, the cyber warfare guidance unit of the hermit nation.
The report, named North Korean Tactics, suggests the hackers do not exclusively launch cyberattacks from North Korea itself, as the country lacks the IT infrastructure to deploy the massive campaigns.
Financial crimes division
The “financial crime division” called the Bluenoroff Group has around 1,700 members and is dedicated to crypto crimes “by concentrating on long-term assessment and exploiting enemy network vulnerabilities.”
The most famous outfit, the Lazarus Group, has conducted numerous high profile cryptocurrency exchanges hacks and unleashed the WannaCry malware between 2016 and 2017. It was also behind the infamous Sony Pictures hack.
Its mission is to “create social chaos by weaponizing enemy network vulnerabilities and delivering a payload if directed to do so by the regime.” However, the U.S. Army was unable to estimate how many hackers are in the division.
In March, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) sanctioned two Chinese nationals accused of laundering cryptocurrency that was stolen in a 2018 crypto exchange hack linked to the Lazarus Group. OFAC accused Yinyin Tian and Juiadong Li of assisting “a malicious cyber-enabled activity.”
According to the latest reports, the North Korea-based cybercriminals are suspected to be using untraceable privacy coins to convert stolen funds into cash.
U.S. Army Report Describes North Korea’s Cyber Warfare Capabilities
A report published recently by the U.S. Army describes North Korea’s cyber warfare capabilities and provides information on various units and their missions.
The 332-page report, titled “North Korean Tactics,” details North Korean forces and their actions, and one chapter focuses on electronic intelligence warfare, which Pyongyang allegedly uses to collect information on its enemies, deceive its enemies, and launch disruptive and destructive attacks, particularly ones aimed at communication and information systems and infrastructure.
North Korea’s electronic warfare includes both lethal and non-lethal methods. Non-lethal methods include electronic jamming and signals reconnaissance, while lethal methods can include physical destruction of targets supporting its enemy’s decision-making process.
In terms of computer warfare, the Army says North Korea primarily conducts these types of attacks because they represent a low-cost and low-risk method for targeting the enemy’s computers, they can be used to counter the enemy’s superior conventional military capabilities, and they can “upset the status quo with little fear of retaliation.”
“North Korean computer warfare activities may be conducted prior to or during a military action. For example, by damaging or destroying networks related to an enemy’s projected force deployments and troop movements, the [Korean People’s Army (KPA)] can effectively disrupt planning and misdirect movement, producing substantial confusion and delays. As modern armies increasingly rely on ‘just-in-time’ logistics support, targeting logistics-related computers and databases can produce delays in the arrival of important material such as ammunition, fuel, and spare parts during critical phases of a conflict,” the report reads.
The unit responsible for cyber warfare is called the Cyber Warfare Guidance Unit, and it’s often referred to as Bureau 121. The Army says Bureau 121 has more than 6,000 members, with many operating from countries such as China, Russia, India, Malaysia and Belarus.
It’s worth pointing out that South Korea’s defense ministry estimated in 2015 that North Korea had an elite cyber warfare unit with up to 6,000 members.
The Army says Bureau 121 has four main subordinate groups. One of them is Lazarus, which has an unknown number of members and which is believed to be responsible for many of the high-profile cyberattacks launched by North Korea over the past years.
Another group is called Andarial (Andariel), which has roughly 1,600 members and whose mission is to conduct reconnaissance operations in preparation of further attacks.
The U.S. Treasury Department last year placed sanctions on Andarial, Lazarus, and Bluenoroff.
The fourth and final group is the Electronic Warfare Jamming Regiment, which focuses on jamming enemy communications.
The 332-page US Army report, titled “North Korean Tactics”: