April 2020International NewsAsia2020

North Korea’s Hacking Grows

Luisa Chainferber
Senior Correspondent 

North Korea’s hacking capabilities are growing significantly, which allows the country to rob financial institutions and evade international sanctions, reports the The Wall Street Journal.

A recent UN report presented to the President of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) on April 13 showed pictures, maps, and other forms of evidence that indicate North Korea’s effort to counter sanctions. Many security experts believe that with the revenue accumulated from hacking, the North Korean regime is surviving the pressure to abandon its nuclear weapons program, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Besides financial institutions, North Korean cyber attacks also targeted government representatives in the UN and even the UNSC itself. For example, according to the report, in September of 2019, the National Cybersecurity Agency of France issued a warning that there was spear phishing activity in the earlier month, which targeted countries that were in the UNSC, such as China, France, Belgium, Peru, and South Africa. Although investigations are still in process, there is evidence that more attacks ensued in 2020 as well.

In addition to hacking, the report also noted that North Korea is buying far more petroleum than allowed according to UNSC sanctions. In fact, the report denounced that although more vessels are under investigation, there is evidence that vessels came to North Korea “at least 157 times to deliver refined petroleum products illegally procured via ship-to-ship transfers within the first 10 months of 2019,” through the use of obfuscation strategies.

The report believes North Korea has a minimum of a thousand information technology workers abroad in order to generate revenue. It is estimated that the country makes approximately $1,700 monthly in revenue from each worker, meaning that these workers bring roughly $20.4 million per year to the North Korean regime.

To help explain the extent of the hacker’s operations, it is worth noting that the United States promised a reward of $5 million for assistance to identity these hackers, reports Forbes. In an advisory released on April 15, the US government noted that the hackers are not just a threat to all nations, but also a “a significant threat to the integrity and stability of the international financial system.” Examples of previous attacks include the Sony Pictures network hacking during 2014 and a robbery of at least $81 million from a Bangladeshi bank in 2016.

Besides hacking, North Korea’s missile testing also seems to be on the rise. According to Foreign Policy, by the end of last year, North Korea fired at least 25 ballistic missiles. This rise in missiles aligns with the report’s denouncement that North Korea increased its infrastructure for nuclear weapons.

While North Korean hacking is rising, there a lot of uncertainty of the overall situation of the country. For example, according to The New York Post, during this week, there was a lot of speculation about the health of Kim Jong Un as reports indicated that he was in a critical condition following heart surgery. It is speculated that the North Korean leader may have left Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital, and went to unknown location on North Korea’ Eastern coast.

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