- The United Nation Experts estimate that over $316 million in cryptocurrency was stolen last year by hackers connected to North Korea
- Cyber-attacks linked to North Korea continued to carry out operations against financial institutions and virtual currency exchange houses in 2020 to raise funds for nuclear weapons
- North Korea is subject to various international sanctions over its prohibited nuclear weapons
In recent months, North Korea has stolen cryptocurrencies worth more than $300 million via cyberattacks to finance its prohibited nuclear and ballistic missile programs, a classified UN report said.
Citing member state of the United Nations, the report, collected by a panel of experts tracking sanctions on Pyongyang, said the country’s “total theft of virtual assets from 2019 to November 2020 is valued at approximately $316.4 million”
In order to generate revenue for the nuclear and missile production of Pyongyang, financial institutions and exchanges were hacked, said the report, which was seen by AFP.
The vast majority of the proceeds came late last year from two thefts.
An army of thousands of well-trained hackers who have targeted businesses, institutions and researchers in South Korea and elsewhere are known to work in the North Korea.
It has also been accused of exploiting for financial gain through cyber capabilities.
The North is under numerous international sanctions over its banned nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, which under leader Kim Jong Un have made rapid progress.
In Hanoi in February 2019, a summit between Kim and then-US President Donald Trump broke down over sanctions relief and what Pyongyang would be willing to give up in exchange.
Since then, nuclear talks have stalled, with the North showing several new missiles at military parades in October and last month, when Kim vowed to reinforce his nuclear arsenal.
The UN panel said it was investigating a hack against a cryptocurrency exchange in September 2020 that culminated in the theft of cryptocurrencies worth $281 million.
A month later, $23 million was siphoned off by a second cyber-attack.
“Preliminary analysis, based on the attack vectors and subsequent efforts to launder the illicit proceeds strongly suggests links to the DPRK,” the study said, using the initials for the official name of the North.
In 2014, Pyongyang’s cyberwarfare abilities first came to global prominence, when it was accused of hacking into Sony Pictures Entertainment as retaliation for “The Interview”, a satirical film that ridiculed leader Kim.
The hack resulted in many unreleased movies being posted as well as a large trove of online confidential documents.
The North is also blamed for the Bangladesh Central Bank’s massive $81 million cyber-heist, as well as the Taiwan Far Eastern International Bank’s $60 million theft.
As the value of bitcoin and other cybercurrencies soared, the North’s hackers allegedly stepped-up campaigns to collect funds by hacking cryptocurrency exchanges.
They were blamed for the WannaCry global ransomware cyberattack in 2017, which compromised some 300,000 computers in 150 countries, encrypting user files and asking the keys to get them back from their owners for hundreds of dollars.
The allegations have been refuted by Pyongyang, saying it has “nothing to do with cyber-attacks”