Are cyber crooks funding North Korea’s nukes?

The Daily Beast reports: Like all modern geopolitical chess matches, the growing tension between the United States and North Korea has a shadowy analog playing out in cyberspace.

North Korea is primed for a sixth nuclear test, which would bring it one step closer to its admitted goal of developing a nuclear-tipped ICBM capable of reaching the United States mainland. At his current pace, Kim Jong Un could achieve that objective within three years, according to military analysts. That’s within President Donald Trump’s first term, and the administration has been ratcheting up the tough talk almost daily. The president recently said that nuclear war is on the table, and the USS Carl Vinson is steaming toward the Korean peninsula (for real this time). Far from cowed, North Korea on Sunday detained an American college professor who’d been teaching in Pyongyang, the second arrest of a U.S. citizen in recent months.

But weapons tests like last month’s failed missile launch in Sinpo aren’t cheap. By one estimate, North Korea spent $1.3 billion on missile tests in 2012 alone. That may explain why the escalation in North Korea’s nuclear provocations has been accompanied by a spree of attempted and actual online bank heists that trace right back to Pyongyang. The largest of them was a nearly successful theft of almost $1 billion from Bangladesh Bank in 2016—enough money to fund North Korea’s missile testing for almost a year.

State-run crime has been an important component of North Korea’s economy for years. Illegal arms sales to countries like Syria and Iran are reportedly North Korea’s mainstay, but it’s also been linked to everything from the wholesale production of illegal drugs to the mass sales of counterfeit Viagra and cigarettes. In 2009, the U.S. blamed North Korea for a deluge of counterfeit U.S. currency, dubbed “supernotes,” that were so high in quality that the Treasury Department was forced to redesign the $100 bill. [Continue reading…]

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