North Korea’s missile program is believed to be funded, in part, by cyberattacks and cryptocurrency theft. The U.S. Deputy National Security Adviser for Cyber and Emerging Technology, Anne Neuberger, has stated that up to 50% of the country’s secretive missile program could be financed by such activities. Speaking at an event hosted by the nonprofit Special Competitive Studies Project, Neuberger claimed that American intelligence agencies are making intense efforts to track down North Korean operatives, and the U.S. Department of Treasury is working to locate stolen crypto.

The Scale of the Problem

Neuberger has stated that the North Koreans “use cyber to gain, we estimate, up to a third of their funds to fund their missile program.” This suggests that Pyongyang has managed to significantly expand its capacity to illicitly seize crypto from users across the world. Last year, the South Korean National Intelligence Service declared that North Korean-backed hacker groups have stolen some $1.2 billion worth of crypto over the past five years.

The American administration believes that “poor cybersecurity across the industry” has “enabled” North Korea’s government to “steal over a billion dollars” which were later used to finance the country’s missile program. Among others, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) believes that the Pyongyang-backed hacker group Lazarus was behind the $100 million Harmony Horizon bridge attack in June 2022. In the attack’s aftermath, the U.S. Treasury imposed sanctions on crypto mixing services, including Tornado Cash, amid allegations that North Korea uses such services to launder stolen cryptocurrency.

The threat posed by North Korea’s cyber activities is a growing concern for the global community, with the U.S. government putting “a lot of time and thought” into the issue. The issue is complex and requires an ongoing federal government effort to understand how a nation like North Korea is so creative in this space. As the country continues to capture the attention of decision-makers and analysts across the world, it is clear that the issue of cyberattacks and cryptocurrency theft must be taken seriously.

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