North Korean hackers steal billions in cryptocurrency. How do they turn it into real cash?

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But the North Korean playbook has evolved in the last few years. One tactic, known as a “peel chain,” moves money in rapid and automated transactions from one Bitcoin wallet to new addresses through hundreds or thousands of transactions in a way that both hides the source of the money and lessens the risk of setting off red flags. Another approach, called “chain hopping,” moves the money through different cryptocurrencies and blockchains to get it away from Bitcoin—where every transaction is posted to a public ledger—and into other, more private currencies. The idea is to make the trail go cold or, better yet, raise false alarms for investigators.The Lazarus laundering operation, says Janczewski, involves creating and maintaining hundreds of false accounts and identities, a consistent level of sophistication and effort that underlines just how important the operation is for Pyongyang. It’s extremely difficult to name a precise amount, but experts have estimated that North Korea relies on criminal activity for up to 15% of its income, with a significant portion of that driven by cyberattacks. A quiet arms race Stealing cryptocurrency is far from the perfect crime, however. Police and regulators were once almost clueless, but they …

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