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The US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has cautioned businesses against accidentally hiring IT employees from North Korea. In an advisory note, the state and treasury departments and the FBI warned that North Korean hackers are posing as freelancers. In doing so, they take advantage of remote work opportunities to earn money for Pyongyang.
According to the FBI, the country’s hackers have been using this approach to evade US and UN sanctions. Reportedly, North Korea has used the funds from these efforts to fund its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.
In the advisory note, the officials said companies that do not conduct due diligence might hire and pay such employees. In turn, this might expose them to legal penalties for sanctions violations.
Highlighting the increasing risk of hiring North Korean freelancers, the FBI said there are thousands of DPRK IT workers. These workers are either dispatched overseas or located within the DPRK.
The agency added,
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, including in North America, Europe, and east Asia.
Red flags to watch out for
The FBI revealed that DPRK freelancers pretend to be from South Korea, Japan, or other Asian countries. To this end, employers need to look out for several red flags during the hiring process. Among the warnings to look out for is declining to participate in video calls. Additionally, the DPRK workers request to payments in virtual currencies.
According to US officials, North Korean freelancers mainly reside in China and Russia. However, some are operating out of Africa and Southeast Asia. They added that although North Korean workers seek to earn foreign exchange or access crypto exchanges, some of them have aided Pyongyang’s government-backed hacking operations.
The officials further noted that the workers might steal customer account information for US and international banks to verify their identities. They then use these verified identities to get jobs on freelance platforms, payment providers, and employers.
By hiring North Koreans, the officials warn that businesses face risks like reputational harm and theft of intellectual property, data, and funds.