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North Korean Hackers Employ AI for Advanced Scams

Pyongyang-sponsored cybercriminals use artificial intelligence to obtain money. Pyongyang-sponsored cybercriminals use artificial intelligence to get money.

AI is becoming a standard tool used by cybercriminals in North Korea to assist Pyongyang in stealing advanced technologies and raising money for its covert nuclear weapons programs.

Employees at international defense, cyber security, and cryptocurrency companies have long been the targets of hackers. They trick people on social media sites like LinkedIn into revealing private information or granting access to computer networks or cryptocurrency wallets.

Two of their most well-known hacking activities are

  • Stealing of $951 million from Bangladesh’s central bank and
  • WannaCry ransomware assault against the UK’s National Health Service in 2017

Microsoft and OpenAI investor himself admitted last week that hackers operating on behalf of North Korea, China, Russia, and Iran were utilizing ChatGPT creator OpenAI’s AI services to support malicious cyber activities.

An intelligence official in South Korea stated that North Korean hackers had previously been found utilizing generative AI to target security officials. “As we remain vigilant about North Korea’s actions, we cannot rule out the possibility that North Korea will misuse generative AI,” the official stated.

Reporters were briefed last month by South Korea’s National Intelligence Service that over 80% of the 1.62 million hacking attempts against South Korean companies and public entities the previous year could be traced back to North Korea.

However, the lack of proficiency North Korean hackers have in the everyday English or Korean required to win over their targets has frequently hampered Pyongyang’s phishing and social engineering operations.

According to Erin Plante, vice-president of investigations at blockchain data platform Chainalysis, North Korea’s development of generative AI, or software that mimics human abilities, they presented a tough new hurdle.

Plante stated, “Recruiter profiles on professional networking sites like LinkedIn have been observed to be created by North Korean hacking groups to look credible. To establish a close relationship with your target, generative AI helps with chatting, sending messages, creating images and new identities.”

She detailed an instance where North Korean hackers pretended to be recruiters for a cryptocurrency exchange in Singapore on LinkedIn to target a senior engineer using generative AI technologies at a Japanese cryptocurrency exchange. For a technical exercise, which required downloading software, the engineer was asked to participate by the phony recruiters. As a result, they were able to install spyware from North Korea.

Plante stated, “We’re not talking about a poorly crafted email that says ‘click on this link’—the attacks are getting very sophisticated. Relationships are developed over weeks and months using these comprehensive LinkedIn and social media profiles.”

According to Shreyas Reddy, an analyst with the Seoul-based research firm NK Pro, LinkedIn was a perfect place to find phony North Korean recruiters. They target potential phishing victims by utilizing several networks like Facebook, WhatsApp, Telegram, and Discord.

According to Reddy, North Koreans may be able to create more advanced malware and malicious software that exploits the computer networks of their targets with the use of AI services like ChatGPT.

Reddy pointed out that North Koreans gain from having access to Chinese AI services. Reddy said, “These services have safeguards to prevent their use for malicious purposes, but people have been able to find their way around them.”

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Kim dynasty, which was in power at the time, started to establish a nuclear weapons program. Since then, Pyongyang has spent decades developing its cyber capabilities.

According to a UN panel of experts overseeing the application of international sanctions, funds produced by North Korea’s illegal cyber operations are assisting in financing the nation’s nuclear and ballistic missile projects.

Research fellow Hyuk Kim of the James Martin Centre for Nonproliferation Studies in Monterey points out that North Korean scientists have published hundreds of studies on artificial intelligence over the last twenty years. In addition to introducing AI-focused curriculums at several universities, North Korea launched an Artificial Intelligence Research Institute in 2013.

An understanding of Pyongyang’s ideas of potential future uses for AI initiatives can be gained from academic papers published in North Korean scientific journals, many of which were co-authored with Chinese scientists connected to Chinese military institutes.

North Korean academics mention a 2022 study in one of their papers that looked into applying “reinforcement learning,” a machine learning technique, in a war game simulation. In the same year, another research examined how an alternative machine-learning method might contribute to the safe operation of a sizable nuclear reactor.

According to Kim, North Korean artificial intelligence systems are still in the early stages of sophistication. However, it’s also possible that they don’t want to show off their skills.



Editorial Staff
Editorial Staff
Editorial Staff at AI Surge is a dedicated team of experts led by Paul Robins, boasting a combined experience of over 7 years in Computer Science, AI, emerging technologies, and online publishing. Our commitment is to bring you authoritative insights into the forefront of artificial intelligence.


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