UN sanctions monitors are investigating dozens of suspected cyber-attacks by North Korea that raked in $3bn to help it further develop its nuclear weapons programme, according to excerpts of an unpublished UN report reviewed by the Reuters news agency. “The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) continued to flout security council sanctions,” a panel of independent sanctions monitors reported to a security council committee, using North Korea’s formal name. “The panel is investigating 58 suspected DPRK cyber-attacks on cryptocurrency-related companies between 2017 and 2023, valued at approximately $3 billion, which reportedly help fund DPRK’s WMD development,” according to the monitors, who report twice a year to the 15-member security council. North Korea’s mission to the UN in New York did not immediately respond to a request for comment on sanctions monitors’ the report. Pyongyang has previously denied allegations of hacking or other cyber-attacks. The UN report was due to be released publicly this month or early next month, diplomats said. North Korean hacking groups subordinate to Pyongyang’s primary foreign intelligence agency reportedly continued with a high number of cyber-attacks, the sanctions monitors said. “Trends include DPRK targeting of defence companies and supply chains, and increasingly sharing infrastructure and tools,” the monitors said. North Korea “further developed nuclear weapons and produced nuclear fissile materials, although its last known nuclear test took place in 2017”, wrote the monitors, who also said Pyongyang had continued ballistic missile launches, put a satellite into orbit and added a “tactical nuclear attack submarine” to its arsenal. North Korea has long been banned from conducting nuclear tests and ballistic missile launches by the 15-member security council. Since 2006 it has been subject to UN sanctions, which the council has repeatedly strengthened to try to cut off funding for developing weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Any further action against North Korea by the council is unlikely as it has been deadlocked for several years on the issue. China and Russia instead want the sanctions to be eased to convince Pyongyang to return to denuclearisation talks. Moscow and Pyongyang also vowed in 2023 to deepen military relations. The US has accused North Korea of supplying weapons to Russia for its war in Ukraine, which North Korea and Russia have denied. “The panel is investigating reports from member states about supplies by DPRK of conventional arms and munitions in contravention of sanctions,” the sanctions monitors wrote. The isolated country imposed a strict lockdown during the coronavirus pandemic that slashed its trade and aid access, but has begun to recover over the last year. “The 2023 overall recorded trade volume surpassed the total for 2022, accompanied by the reappearance of a large variety of foreign consumer goods, some of which could be classified as luxury items,” the sanctions monitors wrote. The sale or transfer of luxury items to North Korea has long been banned by the security council. Under UN sanctions imposed in 2017, all countries were also required to repatriate North Koreans working abroad to stop them earning foreign currency for Kim Jong-un’s regime. “The panel investigated reports of numerous DPRK nationals working overseas earning income in violation of sanctions, including in the information technology, restaurant, and construction sectors,” the sanctions monitors wrote. They also said North Korea continues to access the international financial system and engage in illicit financial operations in violation of UN security council resolutions.
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