North Korea Has ‘Thousands’ of Hackers Trying to Get IT Jobs, US Says

  • North Korea is deploying IT workers to get jobs around the world and generate revenue, the US says.
  • They may pose as Chinese, South Korean, Japanese, Eastern European or US-based freelancers.
  • Many often forge identification documents or use VPNs to work remotely, state agencies said.

North Korea is dispatching thousands of skilled IT workers worldwide to pose as other nationalities and get jobs — mainly so the isolated nation can generate funds for its nuclear weapons program, US agencies said on Monday.

Many of them work in China and Russia, with a small number in Africa and Southeast Asia, but could now also be seeking employment in North America, Europe, East Asia, and other corners of the world, said the US State and Treasury Departments, and the FBI in an advisory. 

The agencies said that these job-seekers could present themselves as Chinese, Japanese, South Korean, Eastern European, or US-based teleworkers and hunt for freelance contracts in wealthier nations.

“These IT workers take advantage of existing demands for specific IT skills, such as software and mobile application development, to obtain freelance employment contracts from clients around the world,” the advisory read.

The advisory said some of the other jobs sought could be in fields like mobile games, graphic animation, dating apps, and building cryptocurrency platforms.

Most of the money the workers earn goes straight to the North Korean government, and much of the revenue is used for the country’s weapons development programs, the US state agencies said.

“The North Korean government withholds up to 90% of wages of overseas workers, which generates an annual revenue to the government of hundreds of millions of dollars,” the advisory states.

In some cases, these workers are subject to human trafficking, forced labor, and excessive work hours under the close watch of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s regime, it said.

The advisory said that many of these IT workers also use virtual private networks (VPNs) to hide their identities while connecting with employers, often work remotely, and prefer to communicate over text messaging instead of video calls. It added that they also often forge identity documents like driver’s licenses or passports.

The US agencies highlighted several red flags employers can look out for, such as when a job applicant asks for their salary to be paid via a virtual currency, refuses to participate in video calls, or when they say they can’t receive work items like a laptop at the address they listed.

“The FBI encourages US companies to report suspicious activities, including any suspected [North Korean] IT worker activities, to local field offices,” the advisory said.

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