In addition to the usual ways that countries evade sanctions, North Korea has undertaken a new method – stealing cryptocurrency. A string of thefts against South Korean cryptocurrency exchanges have been blamed on the DPRK. Billions of won (in cryptocurrency) have been stolen, primarily through malware-laden spear-phishing emails. North Korea employs an elite hacker group, a sub-group of which is responsible for revenue generation. The group may have also been involved in a $523 million theft from Japanese cryptocurrency exchange Coincheck.

Analysis: Sanctions (particularly those that are financial in nature) are most effective when international players are required to use the formal financial sector to move money. The rise of cryptocurrency has created a method by which these illicit financing actors can raise, use, move, and store funds outside of the reaches of most formal banking sectors, reducing the effectiveness of those sanctions.

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  1. […] sanctions and raise money for its illicit programs, including the export of coal through Russia, cryptocurrency theft, and probably many other smaller schemes. However, Russia and China play a critical role in […]


  2. […] reports have indicated that North Korea has stolen cryptocurrency as part of its efforts to evade international sanctions. Lourdes Miranda and Ross […]


  3. […] one way that the regime raises funds for its proliferation activities. Other methods have included cryptocurrency, overseas information technology workers, cigarette smuggling, […]



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illicit financing, sanctions evasion


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