North Korea stole over $300 million worth cryptocurrencies to fund its banned nuclear weapons and missile programs. A confidential UN report said the specific estimate is $316.4 million in cryptocurrencies, stolen between 2019 to November 2020.
North Korea Persists with Its Nuclear Weapons and Missile Programs Despite Sanctions
The US imposed economic sanctions on North Korea in 2006 after their first nuclear test. However, North Korea continued to perform these nuclear tests and funding its missile program in 2009, 2013, 2016, and 2017. The missile program has continued to make rapid progress, especially under the leadership of Kim Jong Un. When COVID-19 crippled economies worldwide, it seems North Korea decided to look for an alternative means of funding Pyongyang’s ballistic missile program and economic plans.
Currently, the UN submitted the draft report to North Korea’s Security Council Sanction Committee, which is responsible for reviewing the implementation measures on North Korea. The report can only be public after discussion and revisions by the board member countries in the council. The report could be used as a reference when imposing new sanctions on the country but does not have any binding powers.
North Korea Stole Cryptocurrencies Through Cyberattacks to Exchanges and Business Social Networking Sites
The confidential UN report cited that the theft occurred through a series of cyberattacks on financial institutions and exchanges. Precisely, it mentioned the September 2020 hack of the KuCoin cryptocurrency exchange. Media outlets termed the KuCoin attack as the most prominent cryptocurrency theft of 2020. The Lazarus Group, a notorious North Korean hacker crew, conducted the heist. The cryptocurrency exchange lost $281 million worth of virtual money. A cryptocurrency tracker firm, Chainalysis, reported that this figure was half of all the cryptocurrencies stolen in 2020. In October, North Korea carried out a second attack that stole $23 million worth cryptocurrencies.
The confidential UN report further included social networking sites and hacked phone conversations as other vulnerable areas that North Korea used to conduct the heist. The attackers earned trust through phone conversations with employees in the defense sector and later sent them malware-infested emails.