The U.S. warned participants at the June 2-4 Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, the region’s premier forum for discussing security issues, about North Korea’s growing reliance on cyberattacks and cryptocurrency theft to fund its missile-development program. Such illicit activities generate roughly half of North Korea’s foreign currency revenue, according to the U.S.
Cybertheft tactics evolving
In September 2017, following North Korea’s sixth nuclear weapons test, the UN expanded sanctions against North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his regime. It was around that time that North Korea’s cyberattacks appear to have increased markedly.
Since 2018, Pyongyang’s cybercrime capabilities have also become more sophisticated and more lucrative. According to a UN Security Council panel of experts, in 2022 alone, Kim’s government is believed to have netted between US$600 million and US$1 billion in stolen cryptocurrency – twice the amount of the previous year.
Asian economies among biggest victims
Nikkei Asia has reported that three of North Korea’s Asian neighbours are among its biggest victims: It has stolen an estimated C$963 million from Japan, C$664 million from Vietnam, and C$375 million from Hong Kong. North Korea’s immediate region is also the victim of the missile and nuclear weapons programs this cybertheft is funding.
The rapid pace of Pyongyang’s missile tests has its regional adversaries on edge; in late May, North Korea's first spy satellite launch failed, but not before prompting emergency warnings in parts of Japan and South Korea. Undeterred by the failure, North Korean officials vowed to relaunch the satellite as soon as possible.