Crypto Heists Channeling Billions to North Korea’s Nuclear Program

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In a rather concerning development for national security, North Korea’s increasing dependence on stolen cryptocurrency to fund its nuclear program has attracted the attention of three Democratic senators.

Elizabeth Warren, Tim Kaine, and Chris Van Hollen are pressing the Biden administration to reveal its efforts to counteract Pyongyang’s use of digital assets to evade international sanctions, as they view it as a severe threat to the country’s safety.

In a letter sent to Jake Sullivan, President Biden’s national security adviser, and Brian Nelson, the Treasury Department’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, the senators requested detailed information on the steps being taken to address the problem.

They also sought updated estimates on the scale and scope of revenue being generated by the North Korean regime through illicit cryptocurrency activities.

The senators cited a June Wall Street Journal article, which revealed that North Korean hackers have pilfered over $3 billion in cryptocurrency-related thefts since 2018.

The stolen funds are reportedly being used to finance approximately 50% of the country’s ballistic missile program, according to U.S. officials. The frequency of North Korea’s missile launch attempts and successes has also surged during this period.

Anne Neuberger, the deputy national security adviser for cyber and emerging technology, asserted that about half of North Korea’s foreign currency funding for acquiring foreign components for its missile program now comes from cyber operations.

This is a very significant increase from previous estimates, which put the figure at one-third of overall funding.

U.S. officials and cybersecurity experts have also observed that North Korea has built a substantial shadow workforce of IT workers operating in countries like Russia and China.

These workers, numbering in the thousands, earn substantial sums of money, sometimes exceeding $300,000 annually, while engaging in mundane technology work. However, many of these workers are also linked to the regime’s cybercrime operations.

The senators’ letter additionally seeks information about the actors facilitating the exchange of cryptocurrency assets for materials used in making nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, their locations, and whether any action has been taken against them.

Lt. Gen. Tim Haugh, Biden’s nominee to lead U.S. Cyber Command and the National Security Agency, has warned that North Korea heavily relies on acquiring cryptocurrency to bypass sanctions and support its nuclear ambitions.

This sentiment was echoed by Sen. Warren, who reintroduced bipartisan legislation with Sen. Roger Marshall aiming to reduce national security risks associated with digital assets.

The legislation intends to bring more of the cryptocurrency market into compliance with laws designed to combat money laundering, terrorist financing, and other crimes.

One of the key provisions of the proposed legislation is extending “know-your-customer” requirements to crypto wallet providers, miners, transaction validators, and other network participants.

The bill also calls for increased information gathering on crypto transactions involving “unhosted wallets,” which are used for storing digital tokens.

The Biden administration faces increasing pressure to address the threat posed by North Korea’s reliance on cryptocurrency to fund its nuclear program.

With national security at stake, Congress and the public await further action and disclosure from the administration to counter this emerging danger effectively.

Read the original story here:
The Wall Street Journal

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Biden administration Crypto Heists Democratic lawmakers National security threat North Korea Nuclear Program Sanctions Evasion Senate Scrutiny Stolen Cryptocurrency Treasury Department White House

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