North Korea’s Cybertheft Totals $1.7 Billion in 2022, Fuels Nuclear Program: U.N. Panel

WASHINGTON/NEW YORK — The U.N. Panel of Experts on U.N. Security Council (UNSC) sanctions reported on Friday that North Korea's state-sponsored cyber activities resulted in nearly $1.7 billion in stolen funds last year.

According to a new release by Yonhap News Agency, North Korea's cybertheft in 2022 was roughly three times the amount stolen in 2021. The panel cited that North Korea is focusing on cryptocurrency hacks as a significant source of funding for its nuclear weapons program. "Actors working for the Reconnaissance General Bureau continued to use increasingly sophisticated cybertechniques to steal funds and information," the report stated, referencing North Korea's military intelligence agency.

The report highlighted that industries in the cryptocurrency, defense, energy, and health sectors were particularly vulnerable to North Korean cyber activities. Additionally, the panel identified overseas North Korean workers, including those on student visas, as an alternative revenue stream, despite UNSC sanctions banning North Korean overseas employment due to concerns over contributions to the state's weapons programs.

On the subject of North Korea's nuclear program, the panel reported ongoing activities at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site, though no nuclear tests have been detected since September 2017. The panel also noted that North Korea's recent ballistic missile tests align with its five-year roadmap announced in January 2021, which includes the acquisition of ground-based solid propellant intercontinental ballistic missiles and tactical nuclear weapons capabilities.

The panel further observed that these moves are consistent with a deterrence strategy akin to a "second strike" capability, indicating a focus on nuclear retaliatory strike capabilities.

The panel’s report also pointed out that North Korea may have exceeded the annual cap of 500,000 barrels for importing refined petroleum products. Between January 1 and May 1 of this year, 25 North Korean-flagged tankers, including nine designated by the UN Security Council, made 46 deliveries of refined oil products. The panel indicated that North Korea has employed various methods to circumvent sanctions, such as deactivating a vessel's automatic identification system during shipments and making these shipments under cover of darkness.

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