North Korea has been carrying out major cryptocurrency hacks to bypass economic sanctions, according to a United Nations (U.N.) Security Council expert panel report.
Nikkei Asian Review, which has obtained the report, reported Friday that this is the first time the panel has detailed North Korea's illicit cryptocurrency activities.
The country has had severe economic sanctions imposed over its nuclear and missile programs, which have impacted its exports of coal and thus its foreign exchange earnings, according to Nikkei.
Cryptocurrencies, the panel said, give the regime “more ways to evade sanctions, given that they are harder to trace, can be laundered many times and are independent from government regulation." It also suspects that North Korea is using blockchain technology to avoid being tracked.
The panel estimates that North Korea carried out successful attacks on Asian cryptocurrency exchanges at least five times between January 2017 and September 2018, with losses totaling $571 million.
The same figure was also reported by cybersecurity vendor Group-IB last October, which attributed the losses to North Korea’s infamous hacking group, Lazarus. The group managed to steal the cryptocurrencies through 14 hacks on crypto exchanges, the firm said.
In February 2018, South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) also attributed the theft of tens of millions of dollars in cryptocurrencies in 2017 to North Korean hackers.
The panel recommended that UN member states "enhance their ability to facilitate robust information exchange on the cyberattacks by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea with other governments and with their own financial institutions," to identify and prevent such attacks.
The report will soon to be formally submitted to the Security Council, Nikkei said.
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