Thousands of information technology (IT) workers who have contracted with U.S. companies have secretly sent millions of dollars in wages to North Korea for use in its ballistic missile program, FBI and Department of Justice officials said.
The workers were dispatched by North Korea to work remotely for U.S. companies have been using false identities to get the job, authorities said Wednesday at a news conference in St. Louis. The money paid to them was funneled to the North Korean weapons program, authorities said.
The workers lived primarily in China and Russia and deceived businesses into hiring them as freelance remote employees, the FBI said. They found various ways to make it look like they were working in the United States, including paying Americans to use their home Wi-Fi connections, said Jay Greenberg, special agent in charge of the St. Louis FBI office.
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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (AP Photo/File)
“We can tell you that there are thousands of North Korean IT workers that are part of this,” spokeswoman Rebecca Wu said.
The IT workers generated millions of dollars and, in some cases, infiltrated computer networks and stole information from the companies that hired them, authorities said. Officials didn’t reveal the names of the companies that hired the workers or how federal authorities became aware of the scheme.
North Korea has used a variety of criminal schemes to fund its regime.
In 2016, four Chinese nationals and a trading company were charged in the U.S. with using front companies to evade sanctions targeting North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistics initiatives.
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In February, United Nations experts said that North Korean hackers working for the government stole record-breaking virtual assets last year estimated to be worth between $630 million and more than $1 billion.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.