GP Insights

GP Insights # 121, 10 August 2019

North Korea: Cyber theft of  $ 2 billion
Vijay Maidergi

What happened?

According to a classified UN report, published by a few leading news agencies that had access to it, North Korean cyber actors were successful in stealing $ 2 billion by using a sophisticated cyber-attack on leading banks, stock and cryptocurrency exchanges.

News reports also mention, quoting the UN report, that the acts were carried out to fund the ‘weapons programme’ of North Korea.

What is the background?

It is not for the first time that such a cyber attack has taken place from North Korea. Cyber operations are considered to be a cost-effective way to maintain parallel military operations. There were reports before linking North Korea to the following: South Korean cyberattack in 2013; SWIFT banking hack in 2015; Bangladesh bank robbery in 2016; and WannaCry ransomware attack in 2017.

Growing threats to its existence from the US and its allies have made North Korea to pursue different strategies. It believes that the only way to keep the US and its allies at bay is to exhibit military strength and its readiness. In the recent past, North Korea has successfully demonstrated its capability in building missiles with varying ranges. The UN sanctions have not deterred it from reckless behaviour. North Korea’s increasing apprehension over the engagement of South Korea and Japan with the US has led it to take aggressive steps.

What does it mean?

 In a country where ‘free will’ does not exist it shouldn’t be a surprise to know that these cyber actors operated under the directions of the Reconnaissance General Bureau, a North Korean Intelligence Agency, which manages clandestine operations for the state.

By doing so, North Korea has opened a window of opportunity for other countries that are heavily sanctioned by the UN to generate income, which is not traceable. Little engagement with the world has done no good for North Korea’s economy. While it has no means to feed its people, it has embarked upon the journey of defending its sovereignty. The money that has been stolen from the financial institutions and cryptocurrency exchanges can be used for various illegal activities in an international arena. Also, the UN sanctions committee on North Korea has brought to light that such an amount can be used to fund the development of WMD and much more conventional weaponry. Following such actions in the long term would lead to the destabilisation of the Korean Peninsula. Subsequently, repercussions would be felt across the globe.

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