The United Nations is investigating at least 35 cyberattacks thought to have been perpetrated by North Korean hackers against targets in 17 countries, with the goal of stealing or extorting enough money to finance the rogue Communist nation’s nuclear missile program.
According to a U.N. report viewed by the Associated Press, the North Korean cyber-crime spree netted at least $2 billion from conventional financial institutions, cryptocurrency exchanges, and individual users.
Techniques employed in these thefts ranged from hijacking money transfers and hacking bank computers to large-scale cryptocurrency mining. All of these actions were illegal under U.N. sanctions leveled against North Korea.
The alleged U.N. report described the North Korean exploits as “low-risk and high-yield.” Some of them may have been perpetrated with nothing more than a single laptop computer. The North Koreans have reportedly become highly adept at phishing and other tactics designed to trick foreign targets into revealing passwords and other sensitive information. The hackers make their getaway by dividing their thefts into thousands of small individual money transfers that can be extremely difficult to trace.
Unsurprisingly, South Korea was the most common target of North Korean cyberattacks, with ten specific incidents chronicled by U.N. researchers. India and Bangladesh were hit with three attacks each, Bangladesh and Chile suffered two, and 13 countries scattered across the globe had one attack each.
South Korea’s Yonhap News reported cryptocurrency exchange Bithumb has been hit at least four times over the past two years, with losses of between $7 million and $31 million from each heist.
The U.N. report chastised member nations for not doing enough to isolate North Korea from the global financial system or screening out North Korean saboteurs. Some of the attacks analyzed in the report were carried out by North Korean IT workers and software developers who were hired by foreign companies and proceeded to set up cryptocurrency thefts after they arrived.
The U.N. report covered a variety of other sanctions violations by North Korea, including the importation of banned automobiles, some of which might have been used by Pyongyang’s delegation to the February summit between dictator Kim Jong-un and U.S. President Donald Trump in Vietnam. Illegal ship-to-ship oil transfers, coal smuggling, and allegations of sanctions-defying military cooperation with Iran, Rwanda, and Uganda were also flagged for the U.N. Security Council’s attention.