North Korea Cryptocurrency Theft ‘Funding Missile Programmes’

The theft of cryptocurrency remains an “important revenue source” for North Korea’s missile programmes, according to a United Nations report.

Cyber-attackers based in the country stole more than $50 million (£37m) of digital assets between 2020 and mid-2021, investigators found.

Such attacks, “particularly on cryptocurrency assets”, helped to finance the country’s ongoing efforts to seek materials and technology from around the world for its weapons, including from Iran.

The attackers targeted at least three cryptocurrency exchanges in North America, Europe and Asia.

Crypto attacks

The UN’s findings were reportedly handed to the UN’s sanctions committee on Friday.

The report references a Chainalysis study from last month that found North Korean cyberattacks could have brought in as much as $400m of digital assets in 2021.

The figure was an increase of about 40 percent from 2020, the company found.

The state-backed Lazarus Group was behind most of the seven major digital attacks covered by the Chainalysis report.

The UN Security Council noted in 2019 that North Korea had earned about $2bn over three years from hacking activities.

North Korea has recently accelerated its missile tests and threatened to lift a four-year moratorium on more serious tests, such as nuclear explosions and intercontinental ballistic missile launches.

Technology

The country launched a record nine missiles in January and has recently tested a prototype hypersonic missile and a submarine-launched missile.

It continues to seek “material, technology and know-how for these programmes overseas, including through cyber means and joint scientific research”, the UN’s expert panel found.

“New technologies tested included a possible hypersonic guiding warhead and a manoeuvrable re-entry vehicle.”

North Korea has also “increased capabilities for rapid deployment, wide mobility (including at sea), and improved resilience of its missile forces”.

Meanwhile, the report found that North Korea’s move to close its borders during the pandemic has led to “historically low levels” of people and goods entering and leaving the country.

Matthew Broersma

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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