Earlier this year, President Trump met with the leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-un, in the first meeting between the leaders of the two countries in over a decade. In the words of the President, the meeting was a great success and the two countries are making significant progress towards denuclearization and an overall state of less hostility. In recent months, that train of thought has come in to question with Pompeo’s canceled visit to North Korea. Even more, recent allegations and sanctions from the US Treasury don’t suggest the plan is going exactly as scheduled.
Currently, the US government has sanctions on the North Korean government. Two tech companies associated with North Korea have been able to dodge these sanctions by concealing their identity and developing software for clients abroad. As a result, the US Treasury ‘issued more sanctions against both Yanbain Silverstar Network, which is also known as “China Silver Star, and their sister Russian company, Volasys Silver Star. The two are accused of running operations that are being used to generate cash for North Korea. In addition, the Treasury has sanctioned the North Korean CEO of China Silver Star. In a statement regarding the sanctions, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said, “These actions are intended to stop the flow of illicit revenue to North Korea from overseas information technology workers disguising their true identities and hiding behind front companies, aliases, and third-party nationals.”
Back in July of this year, the US Treasury issued a warning to China Silver Star as they identified more than $10,000 that was pushed through the company to North Korea. In this sense, the company really served as a middleman by working with software developers around the world, but then denying payment for those services.
To be able to generate cash for North Korea, these companies utilized a number of businesses and software within the US with very little resistance. The companies used Facebook, Linkedin, and Upwork to advertise their businesses. Both Linkedin and Upwork noted the accounts and were able to remove them. Facebook, with the help of the Wall Street Journal, was also in the same boat. They noted these suspicious accounts and worked to suspend any that were deemed to be attached to the scheme. According to the Wall Street Journal,
“[Facebook] suspended numerous North Korea-linked accounts identified by the Journal, including one that Facebook said appeared not to belong to a real person. After it closed that account, another profile, with identical friends and photos, soon popped up.”
Beyond the sanctions themselves, the use of North Korean technology and services poses a security risk to the United States. The products that these two companies employed could have potential malware on them that give North Korea eyes and ears beyond their own borders. As a result, Mnuchin and the US Treasury are encouraging companies and individuals in the technology industry to be on the lookout for these North Korean schemes and contract with credible contractors on tech-related projects.