North Korea hit with sanctions over hackers linked to weapons program

Washington DC - The US on Tuesday announced new sanctions on North Korean groups for what it said was the use of hackers to raise money for Pyongyang's weapons programs.

The US on Tuesday announced new sanctions on North Korean groups for what it said was the use of hackers to raise money for weapons.
The US on Tuesday announced new sanctions on North Korean groups for what it said was the use of hackers to raise money for weapons.  © 123rf/moovstock

The targets of the sanctions "generate revenue by stealing funds from global financial institutions and other entities," Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.

North Korea deploys thousands of tech workers abroad who engage in "malicious cyber activities that support the... government," the Treasury Department claimede.

Four organizations were sanctioned, including the Pyongyang University of Automation and the Chinyong Information Technology Cooperation Company, which the agency said controls workers deployed to Russia and Laos.

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The other two organizations are the Technical Reconnaissance Bureau, an offensive cyber tactics unit which is subordinate to North Korea's premier intelligence bureau, and the 110th Research Center, which has targeted media and defense companies in South Korea, it said.

Also sanctioned was Kim Sang Man, who Treasury said was based in Vladivostok, in Russia's far east, and allegedly served as a paymaster.

Blinken said the sanctions were coordinated with South Korea.

North Korean hackers allegedly use stolen identities

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has supervised several high-profile missile tests recently.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has supervised several high-profile missile tests recently.  © via REUTERS

North Korea "maintains a workforce of thousands of highly skilled IT workers around the world, primarily in the People's Republic of China and Russia," the Treasury statement said.

The workers often use stolen identities and proxy accounts to apply for jobs at foreign companies, using legitimate employment to shield other activities, it said.

The Treasury statement cited a UN report in March that said North Korean hackers "stole more virtual currency in 2022 than in any previous year, with estimates ranging from $630 million to over $1 billion – reportedly doubling Pyongyang's total cyber theft proceeds in 2021."

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North Korean hackers rose to prominence in 2014 with their alleged role in the hack of Sony Pictures in retaliation for the release of the James Franco movie The Interview, which made fun of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

The US administration will continue to combat North Korea's "continued efforts to steal money from financial institutions, virtual currency exchanges, companies, and private individuals around the world," said Brian Nelson, Treasury undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence.

Cover photo: 123rf/moovstock

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