North Korea targeting British banks with cyber-attacks to fund weapons programme

North Korea targeting British banks with cyber-attacks to fund weapons programme

Britain can respond to North Korea's cyber offensive, parliamentarians believe

North Korea is targeting the UK’s financial system to recoup necessary finances for its nuclear programme following the imposition of economic sanctions.

Desperation for foreign currency may force North Korea to launch cyber-attacks on UK’s banks in order to sustain its nuclear ambitions.

North Korea’s economy is presently under siege both from the country’s expensive nuclear weapons programme as well as internationally-imposed economic sanctions. With the country’s dictatorship as well as the United States engaged in a high-pitched verbal alternation bordering on threats of a nuclear war, it seems clear that the country’s alienation wouldn’t go away in the near future.

Such is the country’s desperation to build atomic bombs that the Japanese now have reason to believe that North Korea effectively diverted as much as ¥1.4 trillion donated by Japan to bail out sixteen pro-Pyongyang credit unions, towards its nuclear programme.

While North Korea is trying to make the most of whatever foreign funds it is receiving to bolster its nuclear and missile programmes, the country recently suffered a major jolt when a cargo ship carrying thousands of weapons from North Korea to Egypt was apprehended by Egyptian authorities.

Among others, the vessel was found to be carrying as many as 30,000 rocket-propelled grenades. The United Nations termed the seizure as the “largest seizure of ammunition in the history of sanctions against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.”

The seizure uncovered North Korea’s clandestine, though well-known, sale of Soviet-era arms and ammunition to several nations as well as terrorist groups which it has been doing for several years. Funds obtained via such arms sales were used to recoup foreign currency, most of which were lost to international sanctions.

With North Korea’s clandestine sources of foreign funds gradually drying up, the country may now shift its focus towards other areas of interest, especially the cyber world.

According to Robert Hannigan, who retired in March this year after leading GCHQ for three years, North Korea is now targeting the UK’s financial system to recoup necessary finances for its nuclear programme following the imposition of economic sanctions.

“As sanctions bite further and North Korea becomes more desperate for foreign currency, they will get more aggressive and continue to come after the finance sector. They’re after our money,” he told The Times.

He warned that the country is now increasing its cyber-warfare activities and may soon become a “premier league” player in cyber-warfare. It is doing so by collaborating with cyber criminals who may not be based in North Korea but have the tools in place to conduct massive cyber warfare on Britain’s banks.

“Cyber is just a new and very productive way of doing it. It’s bound to grow — they have found new tools of doing it through social media, through the tech companies. We’re going to see more of the same and more sophisticated attacks. More of the disinformation, more stealing of money, more disruption of systems,” he added.

Hannigan also alleged that North Korea conducted the ransomware attacks on NHS hospitals and GP surgeries earlier this year to steal money from the UK. “Their missiles are not going to reach the UK but their cyber-attacks did reach the NHS and other parts of Europe,” he added.

Hannigan isn’t the first to blame North Korea for the WannaCry ransomware attacks in May. Soon after the attacks began, Neel Mehta, a security researcher at Google, suggested that the WannaCry ransomware shared an identical code with Cantopee, a malware developed and used by the Lazarus Group, a proficient hacker group with clear links to North Korea.

Lazarus Group was most active between 2013 and 2014 when it wreaked havoc around the world. The group was said to be involved in a destructive cyber-attack on Sony Pictures which destroyed up to 1 TB worth of data, an online heist on a Bangladesh bank and an attack on thousands of hard drives in South Korea which also destroyed tonnes of data.

Also known as Hidden Cobra, the group was also behind a large number of cyber-attacks on media, finance and aerospace companies as well as on governments across the world in the last eight years.

Copyright Lyonsdown Limited 2021

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