The United States has announced that it imposed fresh sanctions on North Korea following its launch of a spy satellite last week and on designated foreign-based agents it accused of assisting Pyongyang in evading sanctions in order to acquire technology and revenue for its weapons of mass destruction program.
The U.S. also applied sanctions to cyber espionage group Kimsuky, accusing it of collecting intelligence to bolster North Korea’s strategic and nuclear ambitions, according to a statement by the U.S. Treasury Department on Nov. 30.
Washington’s move, which was coordinated with Australia, Japan, and South Korea, follows North Korea’s successful launch of its first reconnaissance satellite last week. Pyongyang has stated that the purpose of the satellite was to monitor the military activities of the U.S. and South Korea.
The launch drew international condemnation as it violated U.N. Security Council resolutions that prohibit such launches by the North. The rocket technology can also be used for ballistic missiles, which potentially could be used to deliver nuclear weapons.
After the launch, the North claimed that its spy satellite captured images of significant U.S. locations, including the White House, without releasing images, while its ambassador to the United Nations Kim Song defended the country’s launch of the satellite.
“Today’s actions by the United States, Australia, Japan, and the Republic of Korea reflect our collective commitment to contesting Pyongyang’s illicit and destabilizing activities,” Treasury’s Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, Brian Nelson, said in the statement, referring to South Korea by its official name.
“We will remain focused on targeting these key nodes in the DPRK’s illicit revenue generation and weapons proliferation,” Nelson added, calling North Korea by the initials of its official name.
South Korea’s foreign ministry announced on Friday that 11 North Koreans were sanctioned and prohibited from engaging in financial transactions due to their involvement in the country’s satellite and ballistic missile development.
Separately, Japan’s foreign ministry also said on the same day that it sanctioned four organizations, including the hacking group Kimsuky, and five individuals for their involvement in North Korea’s nuclear and weapons of mass destruction programs or activities prohibited by U.N. Security Council resolutions.
Kimsuky, under North Korea’s Reconnaissance General Bureau or RGB, has been active since 2012, according to the Treasury.
“Although Kimsuky is primarily an intelligence collection entity, its cyber espionage campaigns directly support the DPRK’s strategic and nuclear ambitions,” said the Treasury in the statement.
“Kimsuky primarily uses spear-phishing to target individuals employed by government, research centers, think tanks, academic institutions, and news media organizations, including entities in Europe, Japan, Russia, South Korea, and the United States,” it added.
In this scheme, the attacker poses as a reporter or a think tank analyst to collect intelligence, including by asking experts and academics to answer questions on topics related to North Korea, Radio Free Asia reported in March. Often the attackers pretend to be people who are well-known in their field to develop rapport with others in the field before asking them to provide strategic analysis on specific subjects.
“Kimsuky employs social engineering to collect intelligence on geopolitical events, foreign policy strategies, and diplomatic efforts affecting its interests by gaining illicit access to the private documents, research, and communications of their targets,” the Treasury said.
Apart from the hacking group, the Treasury also imposed sanctions on Iran and China-based representatives of U.S. and U.N.-designated Green Pine, a trading company controlled by the RGB for overseas sales of North Korean weapons, two Russia-based representatives of North Korean banks and one China-based official for assisting the North’s overseas transactions.
Edited by Mike Firn and Elaine Chan.