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US authorities have warned the global community over an uptick in invisible bank heists carried out by North Korean hacking agents. Just 20 months ago the BeagleBoyz managed to get away with £9million from cash points around the world. Many of those involved would never have known where the money would end up, with some people employed by legitimate appearing businesses and employers to drain cash machines of money.
The most recent heist was aimed at an Indian bank, intended to drain its various cash machines of their money.
Often occurring in the dead of night, orchestrated by elite Pyongyang “bank robber” units, who exchange the funds into dollars and launder via front companies and cash businesses – from luxury goods to casinos.
The BeagleBoyz appear to be the biggest current threat after a technical advisory issued on behalf of US agencies such as the FBI claimed the “disciplined” unit has targeted 38 countries across Europe, Africa, Asia and South America.
The group’s activities were first detected in 2014, and they have since attempted to steal at least £1.6billion.
The BeagleBoyz have not yet successfully targeted an attack on Britain’s cash machines, but may have attempted to do so in the last two years.
The academic and technology expert John Naughton, following a spree of North Korean hacker groups, warned that the North’s deadliest weapons were fast becoming its hackers.
He explained, in a 2017 Guardian opinion piece, where the UK and the rest of the West were going wrong in misjudging the North’s cyber capabilities.
He said: “Rule No 1 in international relations: do not assume that your adversary is nuts. Rule No 2: do not underestimate his capacity to inflict serious damage on you. We in the west are currently making both mistakes with regard to North Korea.”
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Mr Naughton goes on to note how the North in recent years has come tantalisingly close to realising its technical prowess.
Kim came within a whisker of pulling off the biggest bank heist in history in 2016.
A typo saw the North’s hacker group miss out on stealing $1billion from the New York Federal Reserve, a spelling mistake stopped the hackers in their tracks – yet they still managed to get away with $81m (£62m).
Two years earlier, in 2014, the North successfully orchestrated a devastating attack on Sony Pictures which saw the destruction of 75 percent of the company’s servers, and countless documents containing personal data of staff and yet to-be-released films.
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The country’s “coup de grace”, however, came in 2015 when Kim’s hackers penetrated South Korea’s defence data centre and stole a trove of top-secret files, including American and South Korean operational plans for wartime action.
One included the US’ “decapitation” plan for Kim.
The increased instances of the North’s hacking ability led Mr Naughton to conclude that the North, as things stand, is in a unique and privileged position, because, he explained: “North Korea doesn’t have much of a digital infrastructure and so has less to fear. Which is why Kim may be smarter than we like to think.”
In all of its cyberattacks, from directly targeting state governments to banks, the North has amassed a considerable amount of wealth.
A UN report last year estimated that Kim raised around $2bn (£1.5bn) using “widespread and increasingly sophisticated” cyberattacks to steal from banks and cryptocurrency exchanges.
All of the money, it was reported, went to its weapons of mass destruction programs.
As the North becomes more adept in cyber war and the tools with which to hack advance, many have warned that countries once deemed untouchable are no longer safe.
A UK law enforcement official last month told i News: “It would be a mistake to think we are immune. I would be in no way surprised to learn that this unit is trying to infiltrate a British bank right now – it requires constant vigilance.”
The BeagleBoyz are not alone in their cyber endeavours.
They are regularly supplemented and work with other hacking groups under Kim’s control, including a major team known as Lazarus.
On top of the money stolen solely for its weapons programme, North Korean hacking groups are thought to be engaged in a near continuous campaign of global cyber crime by actors from rogue states to criminal gangs which is estimated to be worth some £1.2trn a year.
This is a figure close to Australia’s annual economic output.
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