North Korea has been cut off from the global banking system since 2017. But its use of hacking, ransomware, and stolen cryptocurrency has accelerated and is believed to provide half the funding for North Korea's ballistic missile program.
"North Korea’s digital thieves began hitting their first big crypto attacks around 2018. Since then, North Korea’s missile launch attempts and successes have mushroomed, with more than 42 successes observed in 2022, according to data tracked by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies. ... Roughly 50 percent of North Korea’s foreign currency funding for purchasing foreign components for its ballistic missile program is now supplied by the regime’s cyber operations, [Anne] Neuberger [Biden administration deputy national security adviser for cyber and emerging technology] said. That is a sharp increase from earlier estimates, which had put the figure at a third of overall funding for the programs. U.S. officials say North Korea has built what is essentially a shadow workforce of thousands of IT workers operating out of countries around the world, including Russia and China, who make money—sometimes more than $300,000 a year—doing mundane technology work. But this workforce is often linked up with the regime’s cybercrime operations, investigators say. They have pretended to be Canadian IT workers, government officials and freelance Japanese blockchain developers. They will conduct video interviews to get a job, or... masquerade as potential employers. To get hired by crypto companies, they will hire Western 'front people'—essentially actors who sit through job interviews to obscure the fact that North Koreans are the ones actually being hired. Once hired, they will sometimes make small changes to products that allow them to be hacked, former victims and investigators say. Starting two years ago, hackers linked to North Korea began infecting U.S. hospitals with ransomware—a kind of cyberattack where hackers lock up a victim company’s files and demand payment for their release—to raise money, U.S. officials say. 'It seems like a modern-day pirate state,' said Nick Carlsen, a former FBI analyst who works for the blockchain tracing firm TRM Labs. ... The skill of North Korea’s cybercrime over the past year has impressed U.S. officials and researchers, and some said they have seen the country’s hackers pull off elaborate maneuvers that haven’t been observed anywhere else."
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