North Korea reportedly stole $2bn from banks and cryptocurrency exchanges

7 Aug 2019

Image: © railwayfx/

North Korea has skirted UN sanctions by using cyberattacks to generate funding for military weapons, a yet-to-be-released report claims.

A leaked report from the United Nations has alleged that North Korea stole an estimated $2bn after launching a wave of cyberattacks against banks and cryptocurrency exchanges.

The details were viewed earlier this week in advance of publication by journalists from Associated Press, Reuters and more.

The report, which was submitted to the UN Security Council last week, was authored by a panel of cyber experts monitoring UN sanctions. It said that North Korea is using cyberspace “to launch increasingly sophisticated attacks to steal funds from financial institutions and cryptocurrency exchanges to generate income”.

The country is, according to the research, using these large-scale assaults to shore up funding for its military weapons programmes. Targeting cryptocurrency exchanges, in particular, allowed it to “generate income in ways that are harder to trace and subject to less government oversight and regulation than the traditional banking sector”.

Many attacks were levelled, experts noted, by the Reconnaissance General Bureau, which is North Korea’s military intelligence programme.

The report pointed to more than 35 instances of actors from North Korea targeting financial institutions, cryptocurrency exchanges and mining activity in order to earn foreign currencies in 17 countries.

The experts noted that Pyongyang continues to have access to the global financial system “through bank representatives and networks operating worldwide”. It attributed this to “deficiencies” by UN member states in implementing financial sanctions, as well as subterfuge on North Korea’s part.

Military activity

Reports also recently emerged that North Korea had been firing projectiles off its west coast – the fourth military weapons test in less than two weeks, though the previous three were launched from the country’s eastern shores.

Pyongyang has expressed anger at both Seoul and Washington for holding joint military exercises. It has also repeatedly bucked horns with Washington over a stalemate the two nations have been locked in over dismantling North Korea’s nuclear programme.

North Korea has been under various sanctions levelled by both the UN and the US for years. Since Pyongyang pulled out of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty in 2003, the UN has unanimously passed more than a dozen resolutions condemning it for its nuclear pursuits. These sanctions have included bans on mineral exports such as copper, nickel, coal and iron, as well as restrictions on import of oil. It has also limited the export of metal, agriculture and labour.

The US, meanwhile, has also placed unilateral sanctions on North Korea to impede its development of nuclear technology, though some have also been shepherded through in response to various cyberattacks it is alleged to have perpetrated, such as the 2014 Sony breach and the 2017 WannaCry ransomware attack.

Eva Short was a journalist at Silicon Republic