North Korea has posed a threat to U.S. security for many years, but a recent report reveals a new way that the repressive regime is using the American workforce to fund its military ambitions.
According to a Department of Justice investigation, thousands of individuals used fraudulent identification records to obtain contract positions within the U.S. information technology sector.
These contractors were reportedly working on behalf of the North Korean regime and their earnings were used to increase that nation’s ballistic missile stockpile to the tune of millions of dollars.
U.S. authorities have reportedly confiscated more than $1.5 million and identified 17 different domain names allegedly used to perpetuate the scheme. Although the names of the companies involved were not included in the FBI’s report, evidence indicates St. Louis, Missouri, was the home of at least one firm involved.
The DPRK workers used 17 websites designed to appear as if they worked for US-based IT services firms, thereby hiding their identities/location when applying for work. In truth they worked for PRC-based Yanbian Silverstar Network Technology Co and Russia-based Volasys Silver Star
— Kim Zetter (@KimZetter) October 19, 2023
“We can tell you that there are thousands of North Korean IT workers that are part of this,” confirmed FBI spokesperson Rebecca Wu.
In addition to collecting money to support its missile program, the Department of State asserted that North Korea has also engaged in efforts to secretly access sensitive U.S. data over the course of more than a year. It was unclear from the FBI’s report how the security threat was first discovered.
Last year, the FBI joined forces with the Departments of Treasury and State to issue a warning that North Korean nationals were attempting to “obtain employment” through fraudulent means.
The advisory indicated that North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un “has placed increased focus on education and training” in order to qualify such applicants for IT positions.
The pandemic-related shift in employment standards has further fueled this type of fraud, according to cybersecurity expert John Hultquist, who said: “I think the post-COVID world has created a lot more opportunity for them because freelancing and remote hiring are a far more natural part of the business than they were in the past.”
As a result of the latest findings, FBI Special Agent Jay Greenberg, who heads up the bureau’s St. Louis office, issued a statement noting that “the FBI recommends that employers take additional proactive steps with remote IT workers to make it harder for bad actors to hide their identities.”