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NK continues nuclear program, relies on cyberattacks for revenue: UN report

The combination of images provided by North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency shows its intermediate-range ballistic missile, Hwasong 12, being launched Jan. 30. (KCNA-Yonhap)
The combination of images provided by North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency shows its intermediate-range ballistic missile, Hwasong 12, being launched Jan. 30. (KCNA-Yonhap)

North Korea continued to expand its nuclear and missile programs last year despite international sanctions, while the regime relied on cryptocurrency heists as its key revenue source, according to a news report Sunday.

A United Nations panel of experts monitoring sanctions on Pyongyang said the regime “continued to develop its capability for production of nuclear fissile materials,” despite no reported nuclear tests or launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles last year, in its annual report submitted to the UN Security Council on Friday, seen by Reuters on Sunday.

“Maintenance and development of DPRK’s nuclear and ballistic missile infrastructure continued, and DPRK continued to seek material, technology and know-how for these programs overseas, including through cyber means and joint scientific research,” the report stated, using the initials of the North’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The experts noted that the North demonstrated “increased capabilities for rapid deployment, wide mobility (including at sea), and improved resilience of its missile forces.”

The report comes as the regime on Jan. 30 fired its seventh and most powerful missile since 2017. On Friday, nine Security Council members, including the US, condemned the latest test of an intermediate-range ballistic missile as a “significant escalation” in Pyongyang’s recent violation of council resolutions that “further destabilize the region.”

Pyongyang last month hinted it could end its self-imposed moratorium on testing nuclear weapons and long-range ballistic missiles in order to bolster defense against the “hostile policy and military threat by the US.”

The UN panel also said “cyberattacks, particularly on cryptocurrency assets, remain an important revenue source” for the regime.

“According to a member state, DPRK cyberactors stole more than $50 million between 2020 and mid-2021 from at least three cryptocurrency exchanges in North America, Europe and Asia,” stated the report.

The experts also cited a report last month by cybersecurity firm Chainalysis that said the regime-backed hackers launched at least seven attacks on cryptocurrency platforms that netted nearly $400 million in digital assets last year.

The UN report also stated there was a sharp increase in the quantity of illicit imports of refined petroleum last year, but at a much lower level than in previous years.

The UN had imposed strict sanctions on North Korea over its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, including ban on exports of coal, iron, lead, textiles and seafood, and restricted imports of refined petroleum and crude oil.

By Ahn Sung-mi (sahn@heraldcorp.com)
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