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Tuesday, March 5, 2024

North Korea Expands Deployment of IT Workers Overseas to Escalate Crypto Hacking Operations and Support Military Financing

Concerns Raised as North Korea Plans to Expand Overseas Deployment of IT Workers for Military Funding

Officials from the United States and South Korea have expressed alarm regarding North Korea’s intentions to send more information technology (IT) workers abroad to support its military’s weapons program. Jung Pak, the deputy special representative for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (D.P.R.K.), revealed that the reclusive nation is preparing to unleash its IT workforce, anticipating a potential easing of its strict COVID-19 lockdown measures.

Pak highlighted the IT industry as a growing sector, as North Korea could dispatch additional laborers worldwide to generate revenue. He further stated that the situation is actively deteriorating. The Treasury Department reports that China and Russia, North Korea’s closest allies, host most of the country’s highly skilled overseas IT workers.

North Korean workers deliberately conceal their identities, locations, and nationalities to secure employment. They commonly adopt fake personas, proxy accounts, stolen identities, and falsified or forged documentation. They have tended to target companies in affluent nations, particularly those operating in business, health and fitness, social networking, sports, entertainment, and lifestyle sectors.

In some cases, North Korean I.T. workers earn substantial incomes, with annual earnings exceeding $300,000. They receive payments for their contract work through virtual currency exchanges and trading platforms, which they subsequently launder back to their home country.

The Treasury Department’s findings indicate that most North Korean IT workers operate under the direction of and on behalf of the socialist state’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and ballistic missile programs. Their activities involve assisting North Korean officials in procuring items relevant to the weapons program.

One example is the Chinyong Information Technology Corporation Company, also known as Jinyong IT Corporation, based in North Korea but employing IT workers in Russia and Laos. Kim Sang Man, a representative of Chinyong’s office in Vladivostok, Russia, reportedly sold and transferred IT equipment to North Korea as recently as 2021. He also received cryptocurrency transfers valued at over $2 million from IT workers in China and Russia.

The United States and South Korea have observed a shift in North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s illicit revenue generation efforts toward cyberspace, driven by Western-imposed sanctions and the COVID-19 pandemic’s isolation of the country. North Korea perceives cryptocurrency and IT as a “new frontier” for generating income, exploiting vulnerabilities in the sector as the cryptocurrency market expands.

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