A damning new report suggests North Korea has amassed more than $571m in virtual currencies by launching successful cyberattacks on cryptocurrency exchanges.
According to a panel of experts who have produced the report for the UN Security Council, the secretive state performed the hacks in order to avoid punishing economic sanctions imposed for its nuclear activities.
The report, seen by the Nikkei Asian Review, claims that the cyberattacks are orchestrated by a specialised division of North Korea’s military – and have become so lucrative that they are now a vital part of Pyongyang’s policies.
Explaining its rationale behind obtaining cryptocurrencies, the UN panel said they Provide the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea with more ways to evade sanctions, given they are harder to trace, can be laundered many times and are independent from government regulation
Most of the cryptocurrency exchanges targeted by North Korea are believed to be in Asia – with a total of five hacks taking place between January 2017 and September 2018.
North Korea blamed
Suggestions that Pyongyang has been involved in cyberattacks is nothing new. Back in December 2017, both the US and the UK pointed fingers at North Korea for the WannaCry malware attack. The hack, which caused billions of dollars in damage, saw files on vulnerable computers encrypted unless the victim paid a Bitcoin ransom. An estimated 300,000 computers were affected – and Britain’s National Health Service, blighted by aging technology, was forced to cancel operations as a result of the incident.
Back in September 2018, the US government announced that it had charged a North Korean man in connection with that cyberattack, as well as another incident which targeted Sony in 2014.
At the start of March, US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un held a second summit in Vietnam with the stated goal of achieving denuclearisation. The talks collapsed because a deal could not be reached on easing the sanctions currently being imposed on Pyongyang.