UN probing 35 North Korean cyber attacks in 17 countries

United Nations, August 13

UN experts say they are investigating at least 35 instances in 17 countries of North Koreans using cyber attacks to illegally raise money for weapons of mass destruction programmes—and they are calling for sanctions against ships providing gasoline and diesel to the country.

Last week, the Associated Press quoted a summary of a report from the experts which said that North Korea illegally acquired as much as USD 2 billion from its increasingly sophisticated cyber activities against financial institutions and crypto-currency exchanges.

The lengthier version of the report, recently seen by the AP, reveals that neighbouring South Korea was hardest-hit, the victim of 10 North Korean cyber attacks, followed by India with three attacks, and Bangladesh and Chile with two each.

Thirteen countries suffered one attack—Costa Rica, Gambia, Guatemala, Kuwait, Liberia, Malaysia, Malta, Nigeria, Poland, Slovenia, South Africa, Tunisia and Vietnam, it said.

The experts said they are investigating the reported attacks as attempted violations of UN sanctions, which the panel monitors.

The report cites three main ways that North Korean cyber hackers operate. One is attacks through the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication or SWIFT system used to transfer money between banks, “with bank employee computers and infrastructure accessed to send fraudulent messages and destroy evidence”.

The other two are, theft of crypto-currency “through attacks on both exchanges and users”, and “mining of crypto-currency as a source of funds for a professional branch of the military”.

Experts stressed that implementing these increasingly sophisticated attacks “is low risk and high yield”, often requiring just a laptop computer and access to the internet.

The report to the Security Council gives details on some of the North Korean cyber attacks as well as the country’s successful efforts to evade sanctions on coal exports in addition to imports of refined petroleum products and luxury items, including Mercedes Benz S-600 cars. AP

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