North Korea could exploit “crypto-currencies” like Bitcoin to fund a nuclear weapons programme, experts warn today.
The rogue state’s cyber hackers could generate cash which the regime may pump into developing deadly missiles, according to the Royal United Services Institute.
A 66-page report published today says: “Despite recent diplomatic progress with the US, North Korea remains the world’s most significant weapons of mass destruction proliferation threat.
“North Korea has gone to extremes to raise funds and evade international sanctions, recently expanding these efforts to include the exploitation of crypto-currencies such as Bitcoin.
“Crypto-currencies likely play only a peripheral role in North Korea’s overall fundraising and sanctions-evasion activity.
“However, the sophistication of North Korea’s broader cybercrime operations and its general demand for ongoing financial resources present the risk that its crypto-currency activity could become a sustained security challenge, particularly as international sanctions lead North Korea to seek financial lifelines outside the mainstream sector.”
The study reveals how South East Asia, with its growing crypto-currency sector, is particularly vulnerable to North Korea’s WMD proliferation financing and sanctions-evasion activities.
“North Korean networks have engaged in fundraising and have evaded trade and financial restrictions through the use of front companies, agents and deceptive financial techniques at banks across the region,” it says.
The report follows a thaw in relations between North Korea and the US, amid hopes of a deal between the two countries.
Pyongyang leader Kim Jong-un and American President Donald Trump vowed to work towards denuclearisation and build “lasting and stable” peace at their landmark summit in Singapore last year.
Although the secretive state has not conducted nuclear or missile tests since, satellite images have pointed to continued activity at the North’s related facilities.
The two leaders held a second summit in Vietnam in February.