Freelancer IT Workers Sends Wages from US Firms to North Korea

FBI: Thousands of remote IT workers sent wages to North Korea to help fund weapons program.

North Korean Hackers
The FBI and Department of Justice revealed that for years, thousands of North Korean IT workers have been secretly contracted by US companies and funneling portions of their wages back home to fund North Korea's ballistic missile program.

Working remotely and using false identities, these IT workers were hired by companies in St. Louis and elsewhere in the US. Unknowingly, the American companies paid millions of dollars to the North Korean workers, who then sent funds back to North Korea to support their weapons development programs.

The federal authorities announced the seizure of $1.5 million and 17 domain names related to the scheme, which is still under investigation. The FBI believes any US company that hired remote freelance IT workers likely contracted some of these North Korean agents.

Authorities advised employers to take extra precautions in verifying the identities of remote workers to avoid enabling this illicit financial pipeline. The breadth of this operation underscores the advanced capabilities of North Korea's cyber forces and espionage agencies.

Jay Greenberg, special agent in charge of the St. Louis FBI office, said any company that hired freelance IT workers “more than likely” hired someone participating in the scheme.

“This scheme is so prevalent that companies must be vigilant to verify whom they’re hiring,” Greenberg said in a news release. “At a minimum, the FBI recommends that employers take additional proactive steps with remote IT workers to make it harder for bad actors to hide their identities.”

The IT workers generated millions of dollars a year in their wages to benefit North Korea’s weapons programs. In some instances, the North Korean workers also infiltrated computer networks and stole information from the companies that hired them, the Justice Department said. They also maintained access for future hacking and extortion schemes, the agency said.

With tensions rising between North Korea and Washington, North Korea's regime has put renewed focus on expanding its nuclear and missile programs. 

In February, United Nations experts said that North Korean hackers working for the government stole record-breaking virtual assets last year estimated to be worth between $630 million and more than $1 billion. 

This latest money-laundering operation through American companies represents North Korea's determination to bankroll its military ambitions through any means necessary. 

Source: APNews

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