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North Korea tied to hacking of banks in 18 countries

By Elizabeth Shim
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (R) watches the test of a high-thrust rocket engine, according to KCNA in March. North Korea cyberattacks are being launched to procure funds for the state's weapons program, according to a recent report. Photo by KCNA/EPA
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (R) watches the test of a high-thrust rocket engine, according to KCNA in March. North Korea cyberattacks are being launched to procure funds for the state's weapons program, according to a recent report. Photo by KCNA/EPA

April 4 (UPI) -- North Korean hackers have breached overseas banks to create a network of accounts to move around embezzled funds.

Funds from the operation are most likely being used to finance Pyongyang's nuclear weapons development, CNN reported Tuesday.

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According to Kaspersky, a Russian cybersecurity firm, North Korea is tied to cyberattacks on financial institutions in 18 countries, including Bangladesh, Ecuador, the Philippines and Vietnam.

Hackers were traced to North Korea, after Kaspersky detected a mistake, and a hacker from a group operation known as "Lazarus" connected from North Korea.

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The hackers had previously routed their attacks from computer services in France, South Korea and Taiwan, making it hard for analysts to trace the origin of the breaches.

Lazarus did not begin to focus on banks until late 2015, right before North Korea conducted its fourth nuclear test then began to test-launch dozens of ballistic missiles in 2016.

Attacks on institutions in Vietnam, Gabon and Nigeria were mostly unsuccessful, according to U.S. firm Symantec.

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But Pyongyang has been linked to the theft of millions of dollars from Bangladesh's account at the New York Federal Reserve in 2016, and a researcher at FireEye, a U.S. cybersecurity firm, said North Korea tried to move the money to a bank it infected in Southeast Asia.

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As more sanctions have been placed against North Korea for its pursuit of nuclear weapons, the regime has been finding innovative ways to circumvent regulations.

North Korea may have used electronics and shipping companies, for example, to transfer millions of dollars. The state also established front companies as subsidiaries in China and Malaysia, according to CNN.

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North Korea may also have begun selling surplus material that is being used to produce nuclear weapons, The New York Times reported.

An online ad for highly pure lithium 6 was traced to the third secretary in the North Korean embassy in Beijing, according to the report.

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