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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un prepares to depart Dong Dang railway station in Dong Dang, Vietnamese border town Saturday, March 2, 2019.(AP Photo/Minh Hoang)

North Korean hackers pose a serious threat to the international banking system, a top investigator with the United Nations warned U.S. lawmakers Wednesday.

“The nearly five years I’ve worked on the panel causes me great concern regarding the security of the international banking system,” Hugh Griffiths, coordinator of the U.N. Panel of Experts on North Korea, told a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee.

“The North Korean hacking of banks is not only sophisticated, in terms of how they’re breaching banking security software systems, but they’re also organizing small armies of people around the world to withdraw very quickly from ATM machines,” Griffiths said.Subscribe to our expanded print magazine for more politics, deeper culture, better accessWatch Full Screen to Skip Ads

North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, which could soon be capable of delivering a warhead to the United States, has made the country an international pariah. President Trump has been trying to negotiate a deal with dictator Kim Jong Un to dismantle the program, but the North Koreans have used cyberattacks to circumvent international sanctions while resisting U.S. pressure to strike an agreement.

Griffiths’ team released a reportearlier this month that found North Korea “enjoys ongoing access to the international financial system, as its financial networks have quickly adapted to the latest sanctions, using evasive methods in ways that make it difficult to detect illicit activity.” The report noted that tougher sanctions imposed in 2017 were “being systematically undermined by the deceptive practices of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the failure by Member States to recognize and prevent them.”

U.S. intelligence officials have identified North Korea as one of the four most significant sources of cybersecurity threats against the West. The U.N. report cited numerous examples of the country’s cyberattacks, including a case from last October in which North Korean intelligence officials plundered $13.5 million from a major bank in India in a breach that “bypassed three main layers of defence” recommended by international law enforcement.

North Korean hackers reportedly targeted 100 different computer networks as Trump and Kim met in Hanoi last month for a summit that ended when Kim demanded major sanctions relief in exchange for limited restrictions on his nuclear weapons arsenal.

“This is extremely well organized,” Griffiths told Congress. “Follow the money. With Chairman Kim, at every level, if you follow the money you will be able to address this more quickly.”

North Korea’s abilities raise the specter of cyberattacks that are more dangerous than thievery. “Do you see any indications that North Korea might use these cyberattack capabilities to put international banking — the entire system itself — or any of its components at risk?” asked Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-Va.

“Yes, I do,” Griffiths replied.

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