North Korea’s internet use surges 300pc in bid to overcome sanctions

10 Feb 2020

Image: © Oleg Znamenskiy/

North Korea is ramping up its access to the internet in order to circumvent US sanctions, a report has claimed.

Although North Korea was once seen as the country that wanted to cut itself off from the rest of the world, a report released by a group called Recorded Future has found that internet use in the Asian nation is surging. It found a 300pc increase in activity on North Korea networks since 2017, bolstered by an increased use of the Russian-routed TransTelekom infrastructure, as opposed to one single access point through China.

While North Korean citizens are typically only given access to a state-approved intranet, the internet has become the tool of choice for the country’s most senior leaders, the group said. The country is most active online during North Korean work hours, as opposed to late afternoon and evenings as seen during 2017.

In explaining this surge in internet use, Recorded Future said it is likely being used to generate revenues through banking, cryptocurrency mining and low-level cybercrime, circumventing international sanctions. Defectors from North Korea have claimed that the government is counterfeiting video games and scamming users through in-game purchases.

An outdated way of thinking

“One defector, who had worked in a house in China with dozens of other North Korean hackers, reported that these men were required to earn nearly $100,000 a year, with 80pc being sent back to the Kim regime,” the report said.

“To meet this requirement, the men created counterfeit video games, bots that stole digital items such as weapons, points and gear, resold them for profit, and discovered and sold new vulnerabilities in gaming software.”

North Korea is also believed to be using the internet for espionage by training and hosting operatives in third-party countries. Basing its cyberespionage efforts outside of North Korea, the country is reportedly using these operatives to access classified data on nuclear programmes and aerospace plans.

Speaking to The New York Times, Priscilla Moriuchi, a former National Security Agency analyst who directed the study, said the report suggests that our previous ideas on how North Korea generates money is “fixed in the past”.

“They have succeeded at an easy-to-replicate model of how to move large amounts of money around the world, and do it in a way our sanctions do not touch,” she said,

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic