IT Pro is supported by its audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more

Blockchain expert imprisoned for five years for aiding North Korea

Virgil Griffith provided instructions on how North Korea could use blockchain technology such as smart contracts to negotiate nuclear weapons with the US

North Korean Flag on Binary code

An Alabama programmer and blockchain expert has been sentenced to 63 months in prison and fined $100,000 (£77,000) for helping North Korea launder money and evade sanctions.

Virgil Griffith, a US citizen, and resident of Singapore who created the WikiScanner tool, was arrested in November 2019 for providing instructions on how North Korea could use blockchain technology such as smart contracts to negotiate nuclear weapons with the US.

Griffith travelled to North Korea in April 2019 despite being denied permission by the US Department of State. Having arrived in the capital, Pyongyang, he delivered a detailed presentation at the Blockchain and Cryptocurrency Conference to North Korean government officials. Following the conference, he then focused on finding ways how North Korea could trade cryptocurrency with South Korea, as well as encouraging other US citizens to travel to Pyongyang.

Commenting on the 2019 arrest, which took place at Los Angeles International Airport, assistant attorney general for national security John C. Demers described North Korea as “one of the United States’ foremost adversaries”. US citizens are “prohibited from exporting any goods, services, or technology” to North Korea without having first obtained a licence from the Department of the Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).

FBI assistant director-in-charge William F. Sweeney Jr said that sanctions against North Korea exist for “deliberate reasons”:

“The country and its leader pose a literal threat to our national security and that of our allies,” he said. “We cannot allow anyone to evade sanctions, because the consequences of North Korea obtaining funding, technology, and information to further its desire to build nuclear weapons put the world at risk.”

The fact that a US citizen chose to aid North Korea was “even more egregious”, he added.

Facing up to 20 years in prison, Griffith pleaded “guilty to conspiracy to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA)”.  On Tuesday, more than two years after he was arrested and charged, he was fined $100,000 and sentenced to 63 months in prison, which will be followed by a three-year supervised release. 

The news comes two months after the United Nations Security Council warned that North Korea had managed to make significant progress in its ballistic missile programme. This has been partly credited to an influx of stolen cryptocurrency, described as “an important revenue source” for Pyongyang. In late March, North Korea successfully launched its largest intercontinental missile to date.

Featured Resources

Four strategies for building a hybrid workplace that works

All indications are that the future of work is hybrid, if it's not here already

Free webinar

The digital marketer’s guide to contextual insights and trends

How to use contextual intelligence to uncover new insights and inform strategies

Free Download

Ransomware and Microsoft 365 for business

What you need to know about reducing ransomware risk

Free Download

Building a modern strategy for analytics and machine learning success

Turning into business value

Free Download

Most Popular

Russian hackers declare war on 10 countries after failed Eurovision DDoS attack
hacking

Russian hackers declare war on 10 countries after failed Eurovision DDoS attack

16 May 2022
Researchers demonstrate how to install malware on iPhone after it's switched off
Security

Researchers demonstrate how to install malware on iPhone after it's switched off

18 May 2022
Windows Server admins say latest Patch Tuesday broke authentication policies
Server & storage

Windows Server admins say latest Patch Tuesday broke authentication policies

12 May 2022