North Korea has continued to develop its nuclear and ballistic missile programs over the past year, and cyber attacks on cryptocurrency exchanges have been a major source of revenue for Pyongyang, according to an extract from a confidential United Nations report released Saturday by the Reuters news agency was seen.
The annual report by independent sanctions monitors was submitted to the UN Security Council’s North Korea Sanctions Committee on Friday night.
“Although no nuclear tests or launch of ICBMs (intercontinental ballistic missiles) have been reported, DVK has continued to develop its capability for the production of nuclear fissile materials,” the experts wrote.
North Korea is formally known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). It has long been banned by the UN Security Council from conducting nuclear tests and ballistic missile launches.
“The maintenance and development of DVK’s nuclear and ballistic missile infrastructure has continued, and DVK has continued to seek material, technology and expertise for these programs overseas, including through cybercrime and joint scientific research,” the report said.
Since 2006, North Korea has been subject to UN sanctions, which the Security Council has strengthened over the years in an effort to target funding for Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
The sanctions monitors noted that there was a “significant acceleration” of missile testing by Pyongyang.
The United States and others said on Friday that North Korea had nine ballistic missile launches carried out in January, adding it was the largest monthly number in the country’s history of weapons of mass destruction and missile programs.
“DVK has shown increased capabilities for rapid deployment, wide mobility (including at sea) and improved resilience of its missile forces,” the sanction monitors said.
North Korea’s UN mission in New York did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Cyberattacks, illegal trade
The monitors said “cyberattacks, especially on cryptocurrency assets, remain a major source of revenue” for North Korea and that they had received information that North Korean hackers had continued to target financial institutions, cryptocurrency firms and exchanges .
“According to one Member State, between 2020 and mid-2021, DVK cybercriminals stole more than $ 50 million from at least three cryptocurrencies in North America, Europe and Asia,” the report said.
The monitors also quoted a report by cybersecurity firm Chainalysis last month as saying that North Korea had launched at least seven attacks on cryptocurrency platforms that extracted nearly $ 400 million worth of digital assets last year.
In 2019, UN sanctions monitors reported that North Korea had generated an estimated $ 2 billion for its weapons of mass destruction programs using widespread and increasingly sophisticated cyber attacks.
The latest report said that North Korea’s severe blockade in response to the COVID-19 pandemic meant that “illegal trade, including luxury goods, has largely ceased”.
Over the years, the UN Security Council has banned North Korean exports, including coal, iron, lead, textiles and seafood, and restricted imports of crude oil and refined petroleum products.
“Although maritime exports of coal from the DVK increased in the second half of 2021, it was still at relatively low levels,” the monitors said.
“The volume of illegal imports of refined petroleum increased sharply in the same period, but at a much lower level than in previous years,” the report said. “Direct delivery by non-DPRK tankers to DVK has stopped, probably in response to COVID-19 measures: instead, only DVK tankers delivered oil.”
North Korea’s humanitarian situation “continues to deteriorate,” the report said.
The monitors said it was probably due to the COVID-19 blockade, but that a lack of information from North Korea meant it was difficult to determine how much UN sanctions were unintentionally harming civilians.