North Korea steals millions in cyberattacks

UNITED NATIONS (AP) – North Korea continues to steal hundreds of millions of dollars from financial institutions and cryptocurrency companies and exchanges, illicit money that is a major source of funding for its nuclear programs and missiles, UN experts said in a report citing cyber specialists.

The expert panel said that according to an unnamed government, “North Korean cyber actors stole more than $50 million between 2020 and mid-2021 from at least three cryptocurrency exchanges in North America, in Europe and Asia, likely reflecting a shift to diversify its cybercrime operations.

And experts said in the report’s section on cyber activities obtained by The Associated Press on Sunday that an unidentified cybersecurity firm reported that in 2021, “cyber actors in the North stole a total of 400 million cryptocurrency dollars through seven intrusions into cryptocurrency exchanges and investment firms.” .”

These cyberattacks “used phishing lures, code exploits, malware and advanced social engineering to siphon funds from these organizations’ Internet-connected ‘hot’ wallets to addresses controlled by the DPRK,” the official said. panel, using the initials of the country. official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Cryptocurrency funds stolen by DPRK cyber actors “go through a painstaking process of money laundering in order to be cashed out,” the panel of experts monitoring North Korea sanctions said in a statement. the report to the UN Security Council.

A year ago, the panel quoted an unidentified country as saying that “Total theft of virtual assets by North Korea from 2019 to November 2020 is valued at approximately $316.4 million.”

In the executive summary of the new report, experts said North Korea has continued to develop its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

“Although no nuclear tests or ICBM launches were reported, the DPRK continued to develop its nuclear fissile material production capability,” the panel said. These fissile materials – uranium or plutonium – are crucial for a nuclear reaction.

Experts noted “a marked acceleration” in North Korean missile launches through January that used a variety of technologies and weapons. Experts said North Korea “continues to seek equipment, technology and know-how for these programs overseas, including through computer facilities and joint scientific research.”

A year ago, the panel said North Korea had modernized its nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles by flouting United Nations sanctions, using cyberattacks to help fund its programs and continuing to seek materiel. and technology overseas for its arsenal, including in Iran.

“Cyberattacks, especially on cryptocurrency assets, remain an important source of revenue” for Kim Jong Un’s government, experts monitoring the implementation of sanctions against the North said in the new report.

In addition to its recent launches, North Korea has threatened to lift its four-year moratorium on testing more serious weapons such as nuclear explosions and intercontinental ballistic missile launches.

The Security Council initially imposed sanctions on North Korea after its first nuclear test in 2006 and tightened them in response to new nuclear tests and the country’s increasingly sophisticated nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

The panel said North Korea’s blockade aimed at preventing COVID-19 had resulted in “historically low levels” of people and goods moving in and out of the country. Legal and illegal trade, including that of luxury goods, “has largely ceased”, although cross-border rail traffic resumed in early January, he said.

The panel has previously made it clear that North Korea remains able to evade sanctions and illegally import refined oil, access international banking channels and conduct “malicious cyber activities”.

UN sanctions ban North Korean coal exports and experts said in the new report that although coal exports by sea increased in the second half of 2021, ‘they were still at relatively low levels’ .

“The amount of illicit imports of refined oil increased sharply over the same period, but at a much lower level than in previous years,” the panel said, adding that direct shipments by non-North Korean tankers had ceased and that only northern tankers delivered oil, “a marked change in methodology” likely in response to COVID-19 measures.

Experts said North Korea also continues to evade maritime sanctions “through deliberately obfuscated financial and property networks.”

As the humanitarian situation in the country continues to worsen, the panel said the near total lack of information from the country makes it difficult to determine the “unintended humanitarian consequences of UN sanctions affecting the civilian population”. .

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