Title: North Korea’s Covert Operation: Sending IT Workers Abroad to Fund Missile Program
In a shocking revelation, it has come to light that North Korea has been dispatching thousands of IT workers overseas in an effort to generate funds for its nuclear missile program. Recent documents reviewed by Reuters have shed light on this covert operation carried out by the reclusive nation.
The workers, under the disguise of fake names and counterfeit work papers, infiltrate Western tech companies using mock interview scripts. This scheme has gained momentum over the past four years, serving as a vital source of foreign currency for Pyongyang’s cash-strapped regime.
To maintain secrecy, the North Korean IT workers are trained using scripts that provide suggestions about “good corporate culture” to avoid expression of opinions. In a nation where freedom of speech is restricted, offering opinions freely can result in severe imprisonment.
This audacious plan was uncovered by researchers at Palo Alto Networks, who stumbled upon fraudulent resumes, forged identities, and online profiles utilized by these workers. Their investigation also revealed leaked darkweb data, exposing the tools and techniques used to deceive businesses into hiring them.
Despite persistent requests, the North Korean government has remained tight-lipped about its involvement in this clandestine operation. However, the US Justice Department made significant progress by seizing website domains used by North Korean IT workers to defraud businesses, recovering $1.5 million in funds in October.
The elaborate strategy involves the creation of multiple fake profiles until one is hired. In some instances, workers have even resorted to maintaining a second fake profile to secure additional employment. These tactics have proven highly lucrative, with remote IT workers earning over ten times the salary of conventional North Korean laborers employed in construction or manual jobs overseas.
With the number of North Korean IT workers estimated to be around 3,000 abroad and another 1,000 within the country, this covert operation has undoubtedly gained significant traction. Most of these workers are located in China and Russia, with some scattered across Africa and Southeast Asia. Impressively, they can each earn up to a staggering $300,000 annually.
Experts warn that this strategy carries potential risks for the North Korean government. As IT workers are exposed to information about the outside world, they become aware of their country’s enforced backwardness. Information exposure could potentially jeopardize the regime’s control over its citizens.
The discovery of this operation was an unexpected outcome of researchers’ examination of a separate campaign by North Korean hackers targeting software developers. Interestingly, there seem to be links between the hackers and the IT workers, indicative of a coordinated effort.
Evidence suggests that some North Korean IT workers maintain accounts on freelancing websites in multiple countries, granting them access to digital templates for creating fake identification documents. Resumes, forged green cards, interview scripts, and proof of access to legitimate online profiles have all been uncovered, underscoring the extent of this covert operation.
One LinkedIn account linked to one of the fake identities was removed following Reuters’ request for comment. The account had claimed affiliation with Jumio, a digital identity verification company. However, Jumio denied any record of the individual having been employed by the company.
As this astonishing revelation continues to unravel, the international community is left to grapple with the implications of North Korea’s covert operation. From fraudulent identities to forged documents, the regime’s pursuit of foreign currency for its nuclear ambitions has taken on a new and alarming form.
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