United Nations (UN) experts said they were investigating at least 35 instances in 17 countries of North Koreans using cyberattacks to illegally raise money for weapons of mass destruction programs — and they are calling for sanctions against ships providing gasoline and diesel to the country.
Last week, The Associated Press (AP) quoted a summary of a report from the experts, which said North Korea illegally acquired as much as $2 billion from its increasingly sophisticated cyber activities against financial institutions and cryptocurrency exchanges.
The lengthier version of the report, recently seen by the AP, reveals that neighboring South Korea was hardest-hit, the victim of 10 North Korean cyberattacks, 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 U.N. sanctions, which the panel monitors.
The report cites three main ways that North Korean cyberhackers operate:
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.”
Theft of cryptocurrency “through attacks on both exchanges and users.”
And “mining of cryptocurrency as a source of funds for a professional branch of the military.”
The 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 cyberattacks 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.
One Mercedes Maybach S-Class limousine and other S-600s, as well as a Toyota Land Cruiser, were transferred from North Korea to Vietnam for last February’s summit between the country’s leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump, the experts said, adding that Vietnam said it asked for, but was never provided, a list of vehicles being brought into the country.
The panel also said it obtained information that the Taesong Department Store in Pyongyang, which reopened in April and is selling luxury goods, is part of the Taesong Group which includes two entities under UN sanctions and was previously linked to procurement for North Korea’s ballistic missile programs.
The panel recommended sanctions against six North Korean vessels for evading sanctions and illegally carrying out ship-to-ship transfers of refined petroleum products.