North Korea is using sophisticated hacking methods to obtain hundreds of millions of dollars from financial institutions in violation of international sanctions, claims a UN report.
Hackers have even targeted UN members directly, using spear-phishing emails in an attempt to steal passwords and other credentials.
Last week, the US Government accused Pyongyang of running a hackers-for-hire system in which it offers talent to governments or criminals organizations in return for money. Two Chinese nationals were indicted and sanctioned last month for helping North Korean hackers launder $100 million in stolen funds.
North Korea’s hacking operation is “low-risk, high reward,” and “difficult to detect,” reads the UN report. And it may be lucrative enough to counter the sanctions designed to force North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un to abandon his nukes.
According to satellite images, the regime has continued its short-range missile tests despite international sanctions.
Pyongyang is also raising money in violation of sanctions by smuggling coal and other goods to China using dangerous ship-to-ship (STS) transfers.
“STS transfers have become a staple among North Korea’s sanctions-busters as they have sought to avoid scrutiny by transferring oil, coal, and other cargoes away from port and in the open ocean where they are difficult to detect with satellite imagery.”
North Korea has recalled most of its vessels in response to the coronavirus, but we can expect this illicit activity to resume when the pandemic subsides.
Author’s Note: Unfortunately it looks like China is helping North Korea evade international sanctions; I wouldn’t be surprised if this is done with support from Beijing.