Report says North Korea supplying fingerprint, facial recognition technology around the world
Under cover of front companies, aliases, and freelancing websites, North Korean companies have been selling fingerprint scanning, facial recognition, and other technology to businesses and governments around the world, according to a report by researchers at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS).
Their report, “The Shadow Sector: North Korea’s Information Technology Networks,” (PDF) describes a national industry which has operated for decades, mostly unnoticed.
The researchers say that the Korea Aprokgang Technology Company is known to have operations in China, Russia, Southeast Asia, and Africa, and specializes in biometric technology and software for security applications. It is thought to have shipped fingerprint authentication technology to China, Thailand, Japan, and Nigeria, and the company claims to have won two prizes for its fingerprint scanning and recognition software at a competition in Geneva during the 1990s. It supplied fingerprint and card scanners to a government agency in Nigeria, and is registered and active in the country under the name “Katrad Aprokgyang Technologies Company,” which also controls the PEFIS brand, according to the report. PEFIS reportedly also supplies “major biometric security firms” with software and algorithms.
Future Tech Group is another company which appears to be linked to North Korea, if not based there. It claims to have sold facial recognition software to law enforcement agencies in Turkey and elsewhere, as well as web development work to a primary school in the U.S. The report says that facial recognition software provided by Future Tech Group may have recently won a prestigious award at an international competition in Switzerland, having been entered by a not-for-profit entity based in a U.S.-allied country, which the researchers say was probably not aware of the company’s connections to North Korea.
Future Tech Group is affiliated with Global Communications, an organization known to be controlled by North Korean intelligence, as id Adnet International, which offers “biometrics identification techniques based on fingerprint, palm-print or face identification skills, artificial intelligence techniques” through its website, which also says its products are available in “China, Japan, Malaysia, India, Pakistan, Thailand, UAE, UK, Germany, France, Russia, Canada, Argentina, Nigeria and other countries.”
The researchers point out that extensive efforts by the suspected North Korean companies to hide their origin makes it likely that many or all of their customers and partners were unaware that they were potentially violating international sanctions and supplying funds for the country’s nuclear weapons program. They also suggest that software supplied by North Korean businesses could be used to provide access for cyberattacks, such as a theft from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and the WannaCry ransomware attack.