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North Korea’s nuclear weapons were financed with cryptocurrencies, says United Nations

North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs rely heavily on revenue from cyberattacks and cryptocurrency exchange hacks, according to a United Nations (or UN) report seen by Reuters.

North Korea's nuclear weapons were financed with cryptocurrencies, says United Nations

North Korea’s nuclear weapons were financed with cryptocurrencies, says United Nations

“According to a member state, DPRK cyberactors stole more than $50 million between 2020 and mid-2021 from at least three cryptocurrency exchanges in North America, Europe and Asia,” according to the report.

While the illicit crypto industry is in full swing in North Korea, other more common sources of illegal revenue (such as illicit luxury goods being moved across the border) have been thwarted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Direct delivery by non-DPRK tankers to DPRK has ceased, probably in response to COVID-19 measures: instead, only DPRK tankers delivered oil.” the report states.

This is not the first time that the isolated and heavily sanctioned North Korean state has turned to cryptocurrencies for income.

In January, data from Chainalysis (also cited in the latest UN report) shows that North Korea has carried out at least seven cyberattacks against cryptocurrency exchanges.

This activity generated nearly $400 million worth of cryptocurrencies for the “hermit kingdom”.

This represented a significant increase in activity from the previous year, where there were only four North Korean-affiliated cyberattacks against crypto platforms.

Chainalysis also found that when North Korea gained access to the funds, the regime began “a very careful laundering process to cover up and withdraw [the money].”

One of North Korea’s top cryptocurrency operatives is the Lazarus Group, a cybercriminal group backed by DPRK’s intelligence agency, the General Bureau of Reconnaissance.

The Lazarus Group became quite popular after North Korea’s infamous cyberattacks on WannaCry and Sony Pictures, but since 2018, the group has stolen and laundered “huge amounts of cryptocurrencies every year, typically in excess of $200 million,” according to Chainalysis.

In 2020, a report found that North Korea was also turning to monero (XMR), a cryptocurrency designed to be completely anonymous.

“We believe that Monero’s anonymity and lower processing power requirements likely make Monero more attractive than Bitcoin to North Korean users,” the Recorded Future article stated.

In 2019, the UN estimated that North Korea had generated about $2 billion for nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

With informations: Decrypt

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