Threat Management, Threat Management, Governance, Risk and Compliance

Report: North Korea steals cryptocurrency to fund nuclear program

People watch a Jan. 5 television broadcast reporting on North Korean leader Kim Jong-un at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)

Truth is stranger than fiction.

In the 2014 movie "The Interview," tabloid TV journalists (played by Seth Rogen and James Franco) travel to interview Kim Jong-un and learn that lots of the weirdness in the life of the leader of North Korea is not just accurate, it is less shocking than reality.

North Korea has stolen roughly $50 million in cryptocurrency between 2020 and mid-2021, according to a report prepared for the United Nations Security Council's North Korea sanctions committee, Reuters reported on Saturday. That amount is only a small fraction of the $400 million stolen by North Korean hackers. according to a January report by tech consultancy Chainalaysis, or the $300 million that was assessed in a U.N. report in October.

“According to a member state, DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea] cyberactors stole more than $50 million between 2020 and mid-2021 from at least three cryptocurrency exchanges in North America, Europe and Asia,” the Feb. 5 U.N. report stated, according to Reuters.

North Korean hackers have been targeting U.S. and foreign exchanges and bridge sites, which convert crypto from one denomination to another, realizing that these payment sites offer a rich opportunity to deliver money to suspect programs like the country’s missile development. According to widespread reports, North Korea employs at least 7,000 hackers to collect money and data and attack other countries’ financial and critical infrastructure systems, like power plants and electrical systems (witness Colonial Pipeline).

As with all financial fraud, nation-state driven attacks have been on the rapid rise in recent months. According to the Chainanalysis report, proceeds from North Korean nation-state attacks in 2020 and 2021 escalated by 40%. Pyongyang has continued to develop the country’s nuclear and ballistic missile program, despite the fact that U.N. sanctions have made funding such developments illegal for more than 15 years.

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