North Korean hackers have stolen foreign technology to evade intercept defenses against hypersonic missiles, a UN report suggests.
The annual report by the UN Security Council’s Panel of Experts overseeing sanctions against North Korea last Friday warns the North continues development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles and has probably stolen the intercept-evasion technology.
The regime has already succeeded in testing a hypersonic missile capable of flying at a low altitude along an irregular trajectory from a mobile missile launcher, which is hard to intercept with the existing defense systems of South Korea and the U.S.
Quoting the intelligence agency of a UN member state, the report speculates that North Korean hackers stole the technology for the development of such a missile.
Trading of raw materials and components needed for development of ballistic missiles is strictly banned by international sanctions, but they have been secretly supplied to the North by China and Russia, the report says.
It said O Yong-ho, a 60-year-old diplomat at the North Korean Embassy in Moscow, is in charge of procurement of Russian raw materials. The diplomat obtained from Russian companies or missile engineers 9 tons of stainless steel alloys used for liquid-propellant ballistic missiles and for submarine-launched ballistic missiles in 2018; a copy of the blueprint of Russia’s TRDD-50 cruise missile in 2019; and a manual for ball bearings for solid missile propellants in 2020.
The North also allegedly bought stainless steel alloys, valves, pumps, and ball bearings for missile engines from a Chinese company in Dandong last year through an official at the Korea General Machinery Trading Corporation. North Korea’s Munitions Industry Department bought materials for solid missile propellants such as aluminum powder through another North Korean official in the Chinese city of Shenyang in 2019 and 2020.
But Moscow and Beijing denied they have any information on North Koreans’ purchase of contraband, while Russian and Chinese companies refused to respond to the report.
North Korea joined only four other countries that opposed a UN resolution condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in an emergency special session last month. On March 25, China and Russia blocked the UN Security Council from issuing a press statement condemning Pyongyang’s latest intercontinental ballistic missile launch.
While keeping its borders closed amid the coronavirus pandemic, Pyongyang has been busying itself with various kinds of cyber crimes, including hacking, to earn hard currency and develop weapons by evading international sanctions.
The report says cyber attackers linked to the North’s Reconnaissance General Bureau stole more than US$50 million in total from cryptocurrency exchanges in North America, Europe and Asia from 2020 to mid-2021. It quotes cybersecurity firm Chainalysis as speculating that Pyongyang stole cryptoassets worth over $400 million through at least seven cyberattacks last year alone.
The U.S. Treasury Department last Friday blacklisted five North Korean agencies and companies for their roles in the regime’s ICBM development — the Ministry of Rocket Industry, Hapjanggang Trading Corporation, Korea Rounsan Trading Corporation, Korea Sungnisan Trading Corporation and Unchon Trading Corporation.
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