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A Growing Army of Hackers Helps Keep Kim Jong Un in Power

North Korea relies on cybercrime to fund its nuclear arms program and prop up the ailing economy.
Soldiers study at a technology school in Pyongyang.

Soldiers study at a technology school in Pyongyang.

Photo: Kyodo/AP Photo

Kim Jong Un marked a decade as supreme leader of North Korea in December. Whether he can hold on to power for another 10 years may depend on state hackers, whose cybercrimes finance his nuclear arms program and prop up the economy.

According to the U.S. Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency, North Korea’s state-backed “malicious cyberactivities” target banks around the world, steal defense secrets, extort money through ransomware, hijack digitally mined currency, and launder ill-gotten gains through cryptocurrency exchanges. Kim’s regime has already taken in as much as $2.3 billion through cybercrimes and is geared to rake in even more, U.S. and United Nations investigators have said.