North Korea continued developing nuclear weapons and producing nuclear fissile material in 2023 and evading United Nations sanctions that aim to cut off funding for Pyongyang's nuclear and ballistic missile programs, according to an unpublished United Nations report seen by Reuters on Thursday.
"After a record-breaking level of cyber thefts in 2022, estimated at $1.7 billion, DPRK (North Korean) hackers reportedly continued to successfully target cyber cryptocurrency and other financial exchanges globally," independent sanctions monitors wrote in the report to a U.N. Security Council committee.
The monitors, who report to the council twice a year, have previously accused North Korea of using cyberattacks to help fund its nuclear and missile programs. North Korea has denied allegations of hacking or other cyberattacks.
North Korea's mission to the United Nations in New York did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the report.
Kim Jong Un dismissed military's top general
Earlier on Thursday North Korean leader Kim Jong Un replaced the military's top general and called for more preparations for the possibility of war, a boost in weapons production, and expansion of military drills, state media KCNA reported.
North Korea has been under U.N. sanctions for its nuclear and ballistic missile programs since 2006. Those measures have unanimously been strengthened over the years, but the 15-member body is now deadlocked as China and Russia push for them to be eased to convince Pyongyang to return to denuclearization talks.
The U.N. sanctions monitors said hackers working for North Korea's Reconnaissance General Bureau (RGB), its primary foreign intelligence agency, "continued to use increasingly sophisticated cyber techniques to steal funds and information."
"Companies in the crypto-currency, defense, energy, and health sectors were targeted in particular," they wrote in the executive summary of the report which is due to be published in the coming weeks. "The DPRK continued to access the international financial system and also engaged in illicit financial operations."
The monitors reported continued illicit exports of coal and "a rich variety of sanctions evasion measures deployed by vessels delivering refined petroleum products to DPRK." North Korea also acquired 14 new vessels in violation of sanctions.
"Although the country's borders remain largely closed trade volumes increased, mainly because of the resumption of rail traffic. A large variety of foreign goods has quickly reappeared," wrote the monitors, adding that they continued to investigate illicit imports of luxury goods.
The monitors said they are also investigating alleged North Korean exports of military communications equipment and ammunition and "possible cases of sales by DPRK of arms or other types of military support to member states."