North Korean hackers are once again in the eye of the United Nations. The country has stolen more than $300 million worth of cryptography in recent months through computer attacks to fund its proscribed nuclear and ballistic missile programmes, according to a confidential UN report.
North Korea has deployed thousands of experienced hackers who target companies and institutions in South Korea and elsewhere in the world. They also aim to find sources of revenue in the face of multiple sanctions the country faces because of its weapons programs.
Flights between 2019 and November 2020
The UN document, drawn up by a group of experts charged with monitoring the application of sanctions against Pyongyang, estimates that « the total amount of virtual goods stolen by the country between 2019 and November 2020 is about $316.4 million » (about 260 million euros), according to a UN member state. A large majority of the revenue came from two misappropriations committed at the end of 2020.
The experts said they were investigating the September hacking of an exchange of cryptomoney that resulted in the theft of $281 million. Some $23 million was stolen a month later in a second cyber attack. « An initial analysis of the vectors used in the attack and the means used to launder the illicit proceeds showed strong links with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), » the report said.
The precedent of 2014
Pyongyang’s piracy capabilities had come to light in 2014, when the North was accused of attacking Sony Pictures Entertainment in revenge for the film The Interview, a satire mocking Kim Jong Un. Pyongyang is also suspected of having stolen some $81 million from the Central Bank of Bangladesh (BCB) in 2016 and some $60 million from Taiwan’s Far Eastern International bank in 2017.