Earlier this week, news medium Reuters reported that North Korea has raked a staggering $2 billion from hacking cryptocurrency exchanges and banking institutions.
The statistics were reportedly gotten from a report filed by the North Korea sanctions committee of the United Nations Security Council, which, amongst other things, revealed that hackers and fraudsters have all but become essential to the North Korean regime.
Per Reuters, the U.N. committee claimed that the North Korean government has been looking at several means of getting funds to bankroll its weapons of mass destruction and other government programs. As such, the Reconnaissance General Bureau has embarked on a bold campaign to recruit hackers to do their dirty work for them.
The U.N. experts believe that North Korea made use of the online space to launch multiple sophisticated attacks, in a bid to teal funds from crypto exchanges and financial institutions across the world. These same techniques were used to launder stolen funds and funnel them across several media and back to the country.
While the country hasn’t launched any ordinates yet, its activities involving nuclear weapons, Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (IBMs), and other military paraphernalia have been a hot-button issue for a few years. The Security Council has agreed to impose strict sanctions on North Korea as far back as 2006, with the specific mission to cut out funding lines and render the country incapable of continuing with its weapons program.
As such, some of North Koreas exports, including coal, iron, lead, textiles, and seafood, have been banned. The U.N. went one step further, as it banned imports of refined petroleum products and crude oil into the country as well. Facing reducing income streams and the brink of economic meltdown, it comes as no surprise that Pyongyang will resort to unsavory ways to make money.
The report revealed that the country’s attacks on cryptocurrency exchanges made it possible for them to “to generate income in ways that are harder to trace and subject to less government oversight and regulation than the traditional banking sector.”
That much was said in a report by the Korea Herald back in May. At the time, the publication quoted Tonya Ugoretz, the ’FBI’s Deputy Assistant Director for its cyber division, who said that North Korea had been incentivized by sanctions from the United States to launch multiple crypto-related cyber attacks.
Ugoretz was reportedly speaking at an event organized by the Aspen Institute, a Washington-based non-profit organization. Amongst others, she pointed out the hack of Sony Entertainment in 2014, a robbery of the Bangladesh Bank in 2016, and the WannaCry ransomware attack two years ago (one which targeted crypto exchanges in South Korea and other nearby countries).
The report further underscores how sanctions have continued to push affected countries to crypto. Whether for better or for worse, sanction hit countries have been ramping up efforts to buy cryptocurrency (or develop their own) in a bid to circumvent the effects of the sanctions themselves.
Some have made a considerable level of success (like Iran, which recently legalized crypto mining as an industry), while some haven’t had much by way of success (like Venezuela and the embattled Petro coin).