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Reports: North Korea funded nuke program by hacking $316M+ in cryptocurrency

North Korea's missile delivery systems (Defense Technical Information Center/Released)
February 11, 2021

North Korea may have used a two-year hacking campaign to raid online cryptocurrency exchanges to funds its nuclear program, according to new reports released this week.

According to the Associated Press, a new report provided to the United Nation’s Security Council assessed North Korea’s “total theft of virtual assets from 2019 to November 2020 is valued at approximately $316.4 million.” A source for one unidentified Security Council member country described the as-yet-unpublished U.N. report.

The U.N. Security Council is comprised of fifteen member nations. The five permanent member nations include China, France, Russian, the U.K. and the U.S. The 10 temporary member nations are Estonia, India, Ireland, Kenya, Mexico, Niger, Norway, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Tunisia, and Vietnam.

Information about the alleged theft of cryptocurrency reportedly comes alongside information about new efforts by both North Korea and Iran, to resume their nuclear arms development efforts. The source for the Associated Press said the report also states North Korea produced fissile material, a key ingredient for producing nuclear weapons.

Reuters reported the U.N. panel “strongly suggests” North Korean hackers were behind a September 2020 hack of the Seychelles-based KuCoin cryptocurrency exchange, which resulted in the hack of about $281 million in digital assets.

KuCoin was targeted again in October 2020, resulting in the hacking and theft of an additional $23 million.

“Preliminary analysis, based on the attack vectors and subsequent efforts to launder the illicit proceeds strongly suggests links to the [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea],” the security council’s assessment reportedly says of their efforts to link the hacking efforts to North Korea.

The council also reportedly claims North Korea has used false identifications, virtual private network services and even front companies in Hong Kong to generate revenue for the country. Sanctions are currently in place to prevent North Korea from earning revenue through exports.

The U.N. Security Council has previously reported North Korean efforts to fund its nuclear program. In August of 2019 the panel said North Korea’s Reconnaissance General Bureau, the country’s main intelligence agency, illegally obtained up to $2 billion to fund its nuclear program.

North Korea has reportedly worked to avoid such sanctions, including by continuing to transfer fishing rights, in violations of U.N. sanctions, in exchange for money. The practice reportedly netted North Korea $120 million in 2018.

U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price declined an Associated Press request for comment on the unpublished U.N. security council report but said the President Joe Biden’s administration would review U.S. policy on North Korea and continue to work towards the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons.