Pyongyang may be raising cash via cyber bank heists: Expert
State-sponsored hacking could undermine international sanctions
TSUYOSHI NAGASAWA and OKI NAGAI, Nikkei staff writers
WASHINGTON/BEIJING -- North Korea may be resorting to stealing money electronically from banks worldwide as its traditional funding sources dry up amid global efforts to stop the country's nuclear and missile development efforts.
Jeff Greene of U.S. internet security firm Symantec testified Wednesday to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs that he believes a group based in North Korea stole $81 million from Bangladesh's central bank via cyberattacks.
He also presented an analysis that the rogue state is carrying out attacks on other countries as well. As of March, hackers based there were suspected of carrying out systemic cyberattacks on 31 countries, he noted. Hacking of financial institutions previously came from individuals, but the latest cyberattacks from North Korea indicate state involvement, he added.
Countries around the globe are increasingly on guard. Malaysia's central bank has said it will work with law enforcement in cases where illegal transfers to North Korea are suspected. Major Malaysian lender CIMB Group Holdings has warned its employees to stay vigilant against potential North Korean hacking attempts such as suspicious emails with file attachments. Pyongyang is believed to be mainly targeting banks in emerging economies to exploit their relatively weak cyber defense.
Tightening the noose
The U.S. Congress is considering expanding sanctions to foreign companies that employ North Korean workers in an effort to choke off funding for Pyongyang's nuclear and missile efforts. Washington has been pressing China, as well as countries in Europe and Southeast Asia, to step up sanctions, and some have just started heeding Washington's call.
Germany's foreign ministry said Wednesday it would shortly shut down an accommodation and a conference facility operating on a Berlin site owned by North Korea's embassy. The accommodation, Cityhostel Berlin, is a backpacker hostel popular for its central location and cheap rates. The rent for the building from the hostel operator apparently has been a source of foreign income for Pyongyang, putting it in violation of United Nations Security Council sanctions.
China, North Korea's biggest trading partner, halted its coal imports from the North for the rest of the year in February. It had purchased about $1.2 billion worth of coal from its neighbor in 2016. U.S. President Donald Trump has praised China for stopping these imports. But if Pyongyang speeds up filling its coffers through cyberheists, stronger sanctions may become moot.