North Korea is funding its program on weapons of mass destruction using stolen cryptocurrency and fiat currency. This has been revealed from a confidential U.N report which mentions that the cyber experts of the country have raised money “with total proceeds to date estimated at up to $2 billion.”
The report seen by Reuters was researched by a panel of “independent experts” and was submitted to the U.N. Security Council North Korea sanctions committee. The report also mentions that North Korea is using expert hackers “to launch increasingly sophisticated attacks to steal funds from financial institutions and cryptocurrency exchanges to generate income” and also laundering the money, in violation of the UN sanctions against it. Reuters added that the North Korean team visiting the United Nations did not offer a comment when asked about the report.
Most of the North Korean hackers work under the Reconnaissance General Bureau, the intelligence agency of the country. Among them, the infamous Lazarus group has become notorious for its illegal cyber activities around the world. The report also adds that the highly sophisticated attacks are designed “to generate income in ways that are harder to trace and subject to less government oversight and regulation than the traditional banking sector.”
The report mentions 35 different hacking attacks on financial institutions that are being investigated across 17 countries. South Korea had previously pointed fingers at its neighbouring country for attacks on its domestic exchanges, resulting in the loss of billions of won. North Korean hackers are also suspected for the cyber-attack on Japan’s Coincheck exchange which led to the theft of $534 million in cryptocurrency. In 2018, A North Korean agent was accused of hacking Sony Pictures Entertainment’s servers in 2014.
Experts point out that North Korea still has access to the global financial system which is a result of the lack of implementation of financial sanctions and the deceptive practices followed by the country. The North Korean banks also use “make use of complicit foreign nationals to obfuscate their activities.”
The panel also mentions that North Korea continues to advance its nuclear and ballistic missile programs by procuring items from various sources, defying the sanctions. The country also engages in prohibited ship-to-ship transfers of coal and refined petroleum products in violation of the sanctions.
Reuters stated that it approached a U.S State Department spokeswoman for an opinion on the report. The response stated that “We call upon all responsible states to take action to counter North Korea’s ability to conduct malicious cyber activity, which generates revenue that supports its unlawful WMD and ballistic missile programs.”