Researchers have revealed that North Korea uses a lot of U.S. tech to carry out its infamous cyberattack campaigns.
The North Korean government has apparently found a way to obtain technology and devices from Apple, Microsoft and other tech giants — despite strict trade sanctions placed on the Hermit Kingdom.
Hackers in North Korea are using the iPhone X, various Windows 10 computers, and other high-profile devices, cybersecurity intelligence firm Recorded Future reported on Wednesday. Despite having access to Apple’s latest and greatest, most of their hardware is still aging: the firm found that older products like the iPhone 4s are still in use.
Long-standing trade sanctions on North Korea have largely prevented many corporations from exporting or doing business within the country. Largely, that means North Korea is pretty economically and technologically isolated.
Because of that, the North Korean government has resorted to using a variety of tactics to smuggle or otherwise obtain U.S. and South Korean technology, Recorded Future noted.
That includes creating fake addresses and identities to bypass those trade sanctions, as well as using shell corporations and fake names located outside of its borders. The report also indicates that North Korean nationals living outside of the country play a part in the scheme.
“Technology resellers, North Koreans abroad, and the Kim regime’s extensive criminal networks all facilitate the transfer of American technology for daily use by one of the world’s most repressive governments,” Recorded Future’s researchers wrote.
Recorded Future notes that the failure to keep sophisticated U.S. tech from reaching North Korea has allowed the country to carry out its “destabilizing, disruptive, and destructive cyber operations.”
While North Korea has resorted to smuggling much of the technology, it does obtain quite a bit of computer hardware completely legitimately. According to TSA export documentation, over $430,000 of “computer and electronic products” have been shipped to North Korea legally between 2002 and 2017.
North Korea has become infamous for its alleged role in various, sophisticated cyberattacks over the last few years. Analysts have linked the Hermit Kingdom to the 2017 WannaCry ransomware campaign, as well as attacks against Sony and the PlayStation Network in 2014.
And the illegal acquisition of U.S. and South Korean technology will likely continue unless more concentrated measures are taken to ensure that sanctions aren’t sidestepped by shell companies and aliases.
In lieu of those measures, “North Korea will be able to continue its cyberwarfare operations unabated with the aid of Western technology,” Recorded Future wrote.
Apple products, in particular, have proven to be popular with Kim Jong Un and the North Korean people. Kim has been photographed on numerous occasions using various Apple products, and mobile phones made within the country are often designed to copy Apple’s hardware and software aesthetic.