North Korea’s missile program has received around 50% of its funding from cyberattacks and cryptocurrency theft, according to a White House official. The US federal government is looking into how “a country like [North Korea] is so darn creative in this space,” says Anne Neuberger, deputy national security adviser for cyber and emerging technology. Although US intelligence agencies are working to identify North Korean operatives and the Treasury is tracing stolen cryptocurrency, Neuberger says the Biden administration is “putting a lot of time and thought” into the problem. Neuberger’s estimate suggests that hacking and cybercrime are crucial to the North Korean regime’s ability to survive.
The announcement comes amid growing international concern over Pyongyang’s missile and nuclear weapons program. A new intercontinental ballistic missile tested in April could allow the regime to launch long-range nuclear strikes more quickly.
North Korean hackers have stolen billions of dollars from banks and cryptocurrency firms over the last several years, with reports from the United Nations and private firms identifying that US officials have long suspected that at least some of that money has been fueling Pyongyang’s quests for weapons superiority. North Korea’s cyberactivity is regular intelligence products presented to senior US officials, sometimes including President Joe Biden, a senior US official previously told CNN.
The issue of cryptocurrency helping raise funds for North Korea is not new. The US Treasury Department added two hackers linked to North Korea’s WannaCry attacks to its sanctions list back in September 2019. Tensions between North Korea and the US have been continuously rising during the past few years, and with North Korea’s regime showing a constant increase in aggression, there’s every reason to believe that its government will continue to leverage cryptocurrency to advance its weapons program.
A recent CNN investigation found a widespread endeavor by North Korean hackers to steal cryptocurrency and launder it into hard cash that might help fund dictator Kim Jong Un’s weapon programs. One entrepreneur unwittingly sent tens of thousands of dollars to a North Korean IT worker.
Neuberger’s states that, “North Korea uses cyber to gain up to a third of its funds to fuel its missile program” stating that hacking and cybercrime are key to the North Korean regime’s survival and its quest for weapons superiority.
The Biden administration has set its sights on this issue, taking great effort in scrutinizing such activities and monitoring the use of stolen funds. While the issue of cybercrime raising funds for North Korea is far from new, the Biden administration appears to have labeled this a significant priority. It remains to be seen what measures the US will take to combat the regime’s attempts to leverage cryptocurrency to achieve its weapons goals.