Money earned by these workers was used to finance Pyongyang’s ballistic missile program, the agency said
American tech companies have for years employed thousands of North Koreans who worked remotely to raise money for leader Kim Jong-un’s weapons program, the FBI stated on Wednesday.
Speaking at a press conference in St. Louis, Missouri, FBI special agent Jay Greenberg explained that Pyongyang supplies these workers with false documents allowing them to travel to countries including China and Russia. Once there, they apply for remote work with American companies, using VPN software to convince their employers that they are based in the US or third countries, and often hiring middlemen in other countries to sign contracts with employers.
“This scheme is so prevalent that companies must be vigilant to verify whom they’re hiring,” Greenberg said. “At a minimum, the FBI recommends that employers take additional proactive steps with remote IT workers to make it harder for bad actors to hide their identities.”
Greenberg did not reveal the names of any companies that hired these remote workers, but said that any firm hiring freelance IT staff “more than likely” had someone involved in the scam on its payroll.
The scheme has been operational since at least 2019, the US State Department, Justice Department, and FBI warned in a report issued last year.
In a separate statement on Wednesday, the Justice Department announced the seizure of $1.5 million and 17 domain names as part of an investigation into the scheme.