Background

A new federal advisory warns of attempts by North Korean information technology workers to obtain employment, including in the field of business, while posing as non-North Korean nationals.

According to the advisory, North Korea “dispatches thousands of highly skilled IT workers around the world to generate revenue that contributes to its weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs, in violation of U.S. and UN sanctions.” In many cases these workers represent themselves as teleworkers based in the U.S., South Korea, China, Japan, or Eastern Europe. Although they normally engage in IT work distinct from malicious cyber activity, they have used the privileged access gained as contractors to enable North Korea’s malicious cyber intrusions. Additionally, there are likely instances where these workers are subjected to forced labor.

The advisory warns that there are reputational risks and the potential for legal consequences for individuals and entities engaged in or supporting North Korean IT worker-related activity and processing related financial transactions. These include financial sanctions, civil monetary penalties, criminal prosecution and penalties, and imprisonment.

For example, transferring software or technology to a North Korean IT worker as part of their work may be a “deemed export” prohibited under U.S. regulations and could also be a violation of the North Korean Sanctions Regulations. Goods produced by North Korean nationals or citizens anywhere in the world are presumed to be made with forced labor and thus prohibited from entry into the U.S. And willfully violating any license, order, regulation, or prohibition under any North Korea-related executive order is a violation of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act.

The advisory lists a number of indications or behaviors of North Korean IT workers as well as a variety of measures companies can take to prevent inadvertently hiring them.

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