UN report reveals collaboration between North Korean hackers and criminal networks in Southeast Asia’s illicit banking scene

The report, released by the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC), points to the Mekong region, encompassing Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia, as a hotspot for such illicit activities, facilitated by hackers like North Korea’s Lazarus Group.

In a concerning revelation, a United Nations report published on Monday highlights the collaboration between North Korean hackers and criminal networks involved in money laundering and underground banking in Southeast Asia.

The report, released by the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC), points to the Mekong region, encompassing Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia, as a hotspot for such illicit activities, facilitated by hackers like North Korea’s Lazarus Group.

The UNODC, drawing on case information and blockchain data analysis, disclosed instances of collaboration between North Korean hackers and various criminal elements in the region. Notably, the report underlines the role of casinos and cryptocurrency exchanges as pivotal venues for organized crime in Southeast Asia.

Casinos and junkets, catering to high-wealth players and unregulated cryptocurrency exchanges, have become integral components of the illicit banking architecture employed by organized crime in the region, according to the report. Southeast Asia’s casinos are famous as capable of laundering money in large amounts of both traditional and cryptocurrency forms, providing channels for integrating billions in criminal proceeds into the formal financial system.

The UNODC report specifically identifies the junket sector as susceptible to infiltration by organized crime, facilitating large-scale money laundering and underground banking operations linked to drug trafficking and cyber fraud. Licensed casinos and junket operators in the Philippines are cited in the report for their involvement in laundering approximately $81 million stolen in a 2016 cyber-attack on Bangladesh’s Central Bank, an incident attributed to the Lazarus Group.

Jeremy Douglas, UNODC Regional Representative for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, emphasized the impact of the proliferation of casinos and cryptocurrency on organized crime groups in the region. He noted that these elements have increased the activities of criminal organizations, with sophisticated threat actors leveraging underground banking systems and service providers.