North Korea is a country that’s isolated from the whole world. Interestingly enough, North Korea is mostly atheist and agnostic, or more specifically 73% of the 26 million population has no religious life. The country is under the regime of leader Kim Jong Un. Radical as he is, he only allows the internet to be used for state purposes and foreigners, he has banned political parties, independent media, alcohol consumption, you name it! In addition to the regime, Kim Jong Un is also known for his interest and focus on developing weapons programs such as nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles… But being cut off from the world doesn’t mean he doesn’t follow trends.
The country seems to have always been up to date with the latest IT trends such as developing ransomware, hacking huge corporations and countries, and even crypto farming and MMO game manipulation. The latest proof of this is that North Korea infiltrated thousands of IT professionals through remote positions in American IT firms under false identities in order to steal data. In addition, the wages earned were used to finance the development of a missile and weapons program.
Thousands of North Koreans worked remotely for American companies
The FBI has announced that thousands of North Korean IT workers, while using fake IDs, have been hired to work remotely for US companies. Allegedly, with the accumulated funds, these IT professionals financed North Korea’s weapons initiatives and programs.
During a press conference held in St. Louis, the US Department of Justice announced that federal authorities seized $1.5m and 17 domain names, as part of an ongoing the investigation. Jay Greenberg, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s St. Louis office, emphasized that these fraudulent practices are so widespread that many companies that hire remote freelance IT workers may have unwittingly participated in the scheme.
The money was used to finance North Korea’s weapons programs
Court documents reveal that the North Korean government sent thousands of skilled IT workers to live primarily in China and Russia so that they could easily trick businesses in the US into hiring them as remote freelancers. This workforce generated millions of dollars annually, but, at the same time, it funded North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs. Moreover, in certain cases, these North Korean IT workers infiltrated the computer networks of the very companies that employed them, stealing sensitive information. Additionally, they have retained access to these networks for potential subsequent hacking and extortion activities.
Various fraudulent tactics were used in this scheme
North Korean workers have used a variety of tactics to create the illusion that they are working in the United States, including paying Americans to use their home Wi-Fi network. The scope of this operation is huge, with thousands of North Korean IT workers implicated across the US and potentially other countries.
While authorities have yet to release the names of the companies that were unwittingly involved in the scheme, it is clear that North Korea has used a variety of criminal activities to fund its regime. These revelations only confirmed that North Korea is seriously working on its ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs. The US and other developed countries need to keep a close eye on them and be extra vigilant, because funding North Korea’s weapons programs and putting sensitive information in the hands of Kim Jong Un benefits no one.
Similar tactics were employed before
This scandal is not the first example of North Korea using deceptive practices to advance its weapons programs. In 2016, four Chinese nationals and a trading company were indicted in the US for employing IT companies to evade sanctions aimed at North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile initiatives. Another similar case comes from two years ago, when North Korean developers were accused of several hacking attacks.
Moral of the story: Be careful who you employ, especially when it comes to remote positions. :)