An FBI agent answered the phone and informed Devin that the software engineer he’d employed the summer before was actually a North Korean agent who had sent tens of thousands of dollars of his salary to the dictatorial government there.
Devin hung up stunned and immediately disconnected the employee from corporate accounts, according to him. Devin mourned, perplexed by the man who had claimed to be Chinese and had made it through several rounds of interviews to be hired, “He was a good contributor.”
Devin’s encounter is merely one instance of what US authorities claim is a persistent, evolving effort by the North Korean government to hack into and steal from cryptocurrency and other tech companies around the globe in order to support Kim Jong Un’s illegitimate nuclear and ballistic weapons program.
According to the United Nations, hackers supported by the North Korean government have recently robbed cryptocurrency exchanges of the equivalent of billions of dollars. The FBI and private detectives claim that in rare instances they have been successful in stealing hundreds of millions of dollars in a single crime.
US federal investigators are now officially alerting the public to a crucial component of North Korea’s strategy, which involves the dictatorship employing operatives in technical positions across the information technology sector.
A unusual public warning from the FBI, Treasury, and State departments was released in May regarding thousands of “highly skilled” IT workers who give Pyongyang “a critical stream of revenue” that supports the government’s “highest economic and security interests.”
It is a sophisticated money-making operation that preys on a dynamic business that is constantly looking for top talent by using front firms, contractors, and deception. According to the US guidance, North Korean computer professionals can make more than $300,000 per year, which is hundreds of times the typical salary of a North Korean person. Up to 90% of their salaries also go to the dictatorship.
Soo Kim, a former North Korea expert for the CIA, stated that “(the North Koreans) take this very seriously.” She continued, referring to the method of creating digital currency, “It’s not just some rando in his basement trying to mine cryptocurrency. It is a way of living.
The treasure from North Korea has been reduced by several millions of dollars as a result of the recent collapse in the value of cryptocurrencies. The value of North Korean holdings in bitcoin “wallets” or accounts that have not been cashed out has decreased by more than half since the end of last year, from $170 million to roughly $65 million, according to Chainalysis, a company that tracks digital currency.
However, analysts claim that because of the industry’s relatively porous cyber defenses and the role that cryptocurrencies can play in evading sanctions, the cryptocurrency industry is too valuable a target for North Korean operators to turn away from.
According to a Treasury Department official with expertise in North Korea, US officials have recently held a number of private briefings with foreign governments, including Japan, as well as with tech companies both domestically and abroad to raise awareness about the threat posed by North Korean IT personnel.
According to the person, the list of businesses the North Koreans are aiming for includes payment processors and hiring agencies, which encompass almost every facet of the freelance technology industry.
The North Korean government has long benefited from the outside world’s tendency to underestimate the country’s capacity to survive on its own, prosper on the black market, and take use of the information technology that powers the world economy.
North Korea is included alongside Iran, China, and Russia when US intelligence officials discuss cyberpowers because the dictatorship has amassed a powerful team of hackers by selecting bright math and science pupils in the classroom.