North Korea, an Asian country known for its military nuclear weapons program, is using cyber attacks and the nascent blockchain technology to dodge economic sanctions, acquire much-needed foreign currency, and cover its tracks, reported the Nikkei Asian Review on March 8.
These claims were made by a United Nations (UN) panel of experts reporting to the Security Council’s North Korea sanctions committee.
North Korea Acquires $670 Million From Cyber Attacks
The panel of experts claims that the Kim Jong-un led country has used cyber thefts to amass $670 million in foreign currency and cryptocurrency. The country further used blockchain technology to cover its tracks.
The blockchain was invented by the mysterious Satoshi Nakamoto and is touted as a secure, anonymous, tamper-proof, and decentralized ledger that facilitates transactions without the need for third-party intermediaries.
This marks the first time that the panel has released details on how the country obtains foreign currencies through cyber hacks.
The report urges member states to “enhance their ability to facilitate robust information exchange on the cyber attacks by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea with other governments and with their own financial institutions,” in order to be vigilant on attacks initiated by the country.
The full report, approved for publication by the Security Council, claims that North Korea carried out cyberattacks on foreign financial institutions between 2015 and 2018.
North Korea, considered to be the prime example of a hermit kingdom, was sanctioned by the UN Security Council Resolutions after it conducted several nuclear tests in 2006, 2009, 2016, and as recent as 2017. The sanctions have crippled the country’s coal export industry, a key earner of foreign currency.
Cyberattack Unit an Important Part of North Korea’s Government
The North Korean government uses virtual currencies because they are very difficult to trace, can be laundered multiple times, and are free from government regulation, claims the UN panel of experts.
The country is also accused of using blockchain technology to evade financial restrictions. Marine Chain, a now-defunct Hong Kong-based startup, is believed to have been supplying cryptocurrencies the North Korean regime. The startup specialized in buying and selling ships worldwide using blockchain technology but was eventually closed down last September.
The panel estimates that North Korea successfully attacked Asian exchanges and raked in around $571 million between January 2017 and September last year.
As per the report, the cyber unit successfully stole around $81 million from the Bangladesh Central Bank in 2016. The money stolen in the Bangladesh Bank Heist passed through the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and was eventually laundered through the Philippine casino system.
The governor of Bangladesh’s central bank at the time, Atiur Rahman, was stunned by the heist.
“It was like a terrorist attack, into the central bank. I couldn’t believe it … because nothing like that … ever happened,” said Rahman.
The North also successfully stole $10 million from the Bank of Chile and $13.5 from India’s Cosmos Bank.