(ATTN: UPDATES with reports of statement from state department spokesperson in last 3 paras)
By Byun Duk-kun
WASHINGTON, May 16 (Yonhap) -- North Korea is dispatching thousands of skilled IT workers overseas to seek employment while posing as U.S.-based or non-North Korean nationals, the U.S. Department of Treasury said Monday.
The revenue raised from such illicit employment may be funneled into North Korea's weapons of mass destruction programs, the department said in the advisory jointly issued by the state department and FBI.
They said the advisory was to warn of "attempts by Democratic People's Republic of Korea information technology (IT) workers to obtain employment while posing as non-North Korean nationals," adding the North Korean workers often "represent themselves as U.S.-based and/or non-North Korean teleworkers."
"The DPRK dispatches thousands of highly skilled IT workers around the world to generate revenue that contributes to its weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and ballistic missile programs, in violation of U.S. and UN sanctions," said the advisory.
"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," it added.
North Korea is said to be increasingly relying on its hackers to steal and launder virtual currency to fund its weapons programs.
The advisory said North Korean IT workers that are hired "normally engage in IT work distinct from malicious cyber activity" but that they may use the access they have gained as contractors to enable the North's malicious cyber intrusions.
It said hiring North Korean IT workers may carry "reputational risks, as well as the "potential for legal consequences" for violating U.S. and U.N. Security Council sanctions on the North.
"Additionally, there are likely instances where workers are subjected to forced labor," it added.
State Department Press Secretary Ned Price also highlighted the risks associated with hiring North Korean IT workers.
"Hiring or supporting the activities of DPRK IT workers poses many risks, ranging from theft of intellectual property, data, and funds to reputational harm and legal consequences, including sanctions under both United States and United Nations authorities," he said in a released statement.
"The United States is committed to disrupting illicit DPRK revenue-generating activities, which may facilitate criminal activity, provide direct support to the DPRK's unlawful weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs, and threaten international peace and security," he added.
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