According to a United Nations report, North Korea’s primary source of revenue remains crypto theft. Without a doubt, the number of hacks on exchanges and other platforms has recently increased. And, although not all of them are sponsored by North Korea, they remain one of the top contenders.
According to media reports, North Korean cyberattacks on cryptocurrency exchanges scooped up millions of dollars in digital assets to fund Pyongyang’s missile programs. According to UN investigators, the country stole more than $50m (£37m) in digital assets between 2020 and mid-2021. But other reports have put the figure nearer to $400m (£295m). UN report says such attacks are an “important revenue source” for Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile program.
North Korea has already conducted seven suspected ballistic missile tests this year, the most recent of which appeared to have reached an altitude of 2,000 km and flown for 30 minutes to a distance of 800 km. According to the report delivered to the UN sanctions committee last week, the hacking crimes primarily targeted cryptocurrency exchanges. The cyber-attacks targeted at least three cryptocurrency exchanges in North America, Europe and Asia.
In 2019, the UN reported that North Korea had acquired approximately $2 billion to fund its nuclear and missile programs, despite economic sanctions designed to prevent further research. In addition, researchers have linked state-sponsored hacking groups in the country to a daring attempt to steal $1 billion from the Bangladesh Bank in May 2017.
According to Chainalysis, North Korean cyber criminals launched at least seven attacks on cryptocurrency platforms in 2021. These digital heists netted nearly $400 million, representing a 40% increase in revenue for the state-linked criminals over the previous year. Additionally, Chainalysis found that most of these heists now target Ether rather than Bitcoin.
The UN Security Council has prohibited North Korea from conducting nuclear tests or launching ballistic missiles. Yet, according to the UN report, North Korea has continued developing its nuclear and ballistic missile infrastructure despite crippling sanctions. It has also continued to look for material, technology, and know-how from other countries, including through cyber means and collaborative scientific research.
On Friday, the United States said that North Korea, formally known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), conducted nine missile tests in the previous month alone. “The DPRK demonstrated increased capabilities for rapid deployment, wide mobility (including at sea), and improved missile force resilience,” the sanctions monitors said.
The UN report also found that North Korea’s humanitarian situation was deteriorating. It stated that this was most likely due to the country’s decision to close its borders during the pandemic. Due to a lack of information from North Korea, it was difficult to determine how much suffering was caused by international sanctions.