The US is becoming increasingly worried that North Korean hackers are helping to fund their country’s nuclear weapons program. A UN report found that North Korean hackers stole more than $50 million in digital assets between 2020 to 2021.
According to a report on The Charlotte Observer on Tuesday, up to a third of stolen crypto funds are being used to fund the North Korean missile program. Anne Neuberger, Deputy National Security Advisor for Cyber and Emerging Technology, who was quoted in the report, said:
"That's a major issue, whether it's attacks against cryptocurrency exchanges or use of information technology workers in various countries."
The UN report stated that crypto hacks were targeted at cryptocurrency exchanges in North America, Europe, and Asia. A previous report on the situation from 2019, outlined that North Korea had managed to raise $2 billion from very sophisticated cyberattacks aimed at banks and crypto exchanges.
More recently, in April of this year, the FBI said that the sanctioned North Korean hackers known as the Lazarus Group were responsible for the $620 million hack of play-to-earn crypto game Axie Infinity.
It seems that North Korea has mainly targeted cryptocurrency platforms given that regulations are still mostly lacking, and new projects are launching all the time with code that is sometimes not audited or has not been tried and tested.
According to Jenny Jun, a political science Ph.D. student at Columbia University, North Korea was using its cyber capabilities for “political and economic espionage”, and that it was carrying out coercive and intimidating tactics in order to ensure the “survival and continuation of the Kim family rule”. Jun stated:
"Even before the [emergence] of cybercrime, North Korea maintained an extensive illicit network to generate foreign cash, which was controlled by the Kim family to placate a small circle of elites, engage in repression and also pursue expensive weapons programs such as missile and nuclear programs,"
The Biden administration is countering the North Korean threat in cyberspace, and is working closely with other actors in the region such as South Korea and Japan in order to respond to the threat.
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