‘Malicious’ N.K. cyberactivities account for half of foreign currency income, fund WMD programs: UN report

By Song Sang-ho

WASHINGTON, March 20 (Yonhap) — North Korea has engaged in “malicious” cyberactivities to generate about half of its foreign currency revenue and bankroll its weapons programs, a report by a U.N. panel of experts showed Wednesday.

Pyongyang also funds 40 percent of its weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs through “illicit cybermeans,” the report said, noting it is investigating 58 suspected cyberattacks by the North on crypto-related firms from 2017-23, which are valued at roughly US$3 billion.

The panel under the U.N. Security Council (UNSC) sanctions committee on the North released a final report on its research from July 2023 through January based on open-source materials, information from U.N. member countries and other sources.

It stressed that during its reporting period, North Korean cyberthreat actors continued targeting the virtual asset industry in an effort to evade U.N. sanctions and generate revenue.

“The malicious cyberactivities of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) generate approximately 50 percent of its foreign currency income and are used to fund its weapons programs,” the panel said, citing information from “one member state.” DPRK is short for the North’s official name.

“A second member state reported that 40 percent of the weapons of mass destruction programs of the DPRK are funded by illicit cybermeans,” it added.

The panel is investigating 17 cryptocurrency heists last year, for which the North may be responsible, valued at more than $750 million, the report said. It is further looking into a total of 58 suspected cyberattacks on crypto-linked firms between 2017 and 2023 that are valued at approximately $3 billion.

“One cybercompany branded the DPRK the world’s most prolific cyber-thief,” the report said.

Moreover, the panel underlined that while flouting UNSC sanctions, the North has been tripling down on its nuclear and missile programs.

“It further developed nuclear weapons and produced nuclear fissile materials, although its last known nuclear test took place in 2017,” the panel said. “The light water reactor appeared to be operational at the Yongbyon site, and activities at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site continued.”

In particular, the panel called attention to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Grossi’s remarks indicating activities under way that could lead to the production of more fissile materials used for nuclear bombs.

“The director general of the IAEA stated on 22 November that ‘since mid-October 2023, a strong water outflow has been observed from the (light water reactor) cooling system. These observations are consistent with the commissioning of the ‘light water reactor,'” the report said.

It went on to say, “The director general of IAEA also stated that the light water reactor, ‘like any nuclear reactor, can produce plutonium in its irradiated fuel.'”

The panel also highlighted that the North continued to breach UNSC resolutions through its efforts to advance ballistic missile capabilities, such as launching missiles and satellite launchers, and commissioning a purported ballistic missile submarine.

Based on its observations and information from member states, the panel assessed that the North has advanced its missile program in various areas, including reliability, maneuverability, precision, air bursts and mobile launcher manufacturing.

This undated file photo, released by AFP, shows a U.N. Security Council session under way at the U.N. headquarters in New York. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

This undated file photo, released by AFP, shows a U.N. Security Council session under way at the U.N. headquarters in New York. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)


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