North Korea ‘Funding Weapons Programs’ with Vast Cache of ‘Stolen Crypto’
International investigators claim that North Korea stole “hundreds of millions of dollars worth of cryptoassets” to pay for its nuclear weapons programs” – while a row has broken out in South Korean political circles over politicians’ alleged ties to the crypto developer Virgil Griffith.
The development comes as Pyongyang claimed that recent missile launches were a “simulation” for nuclear attacks on South Korea. The North is set to conduct its first nuclear weapons test for five years in the coming days, per South Korean-United States intelligence reports. And all this – Seoul and Washington say – is being funded, at least in large part, by stolen crypto.
Per Yonhap, the UN Security Council’s North Korea Sanctions Committee has blamed North Korean hacking groups such as Lazarus for both the Ronin Bridge and the Harmony hacks. The committee claimed that the hacks had been directly authorized by Pyongyang’s General Bureau of Reconnaissance.
The committee added that North Korean hackers, including Lazarus members, had “used social engineering hacking methods” to infiltrate systems and had preyed on individuals in a bid to force a way in behind the bridges’ defenses.
The committee further claimed that the BlueNoroff hacking group – blamed by Western powers for the 2016 attack on Bangladesh’s Central Bank – had now been repurposed by the General Bureau of Reconnaissance to focus solely on stealing crypto.
And the committee claimed that while it could not be certain if BlueNoroff had, like Lazarus, “succeeded in generating illegal revenue for North Korea,” it claimed that it was likely that “these types of operations” were “likely to continue” in the future.
North Korea’s ‘Stolen’ Crypto Sparks Political Discord
Per Digital Today, the issue of the North and its alleged cryptoasset-related operations is in danger of creating an ugly political spat between the Democratic Party – the largest party in the National Assembly – and the People’s Power Party, which has control over the executive.
A Democrat MP has claimed that Justice Minister Han Dong-hoon visited the United States District Prosecutor’s Office for the Southern District of New York in July this year to investigate possible links between Democrats and the Ethereum developer Virgil Griffith. The developer was jailed for five years for attempting to help Pyongyang evade sanctions using cryptoassets.
Some Democrats claim that People’s Power Party officials are trying to engineer a connection between Lee Jae-myung, the Democratic Party Chairman, and Griffith. Per court documents, Griffith appears to have had a contact in South Korea. Politicians have claimed that this contact may have been linked somehow to Lee and Park Won-soon – a leading Democratic Party member and the former Mayor of Seoul. Park committed suicide on June 9, 2020.
Allegedly, documents indicate that both Lee and Park were “very interested in creating an Ethereum server research center in North Korea.”
Han did not address the accusation directly when questioned on the matter, stating it was “right to cooperate with the United States” on crypto-related matters, but claimed he was not at liberty to “reveal specific details” on the nature of his visit to the United States.