Sanctions-hit North Korea could be using cloud computing to train artificial intelligence systems for its military, a study has warned.

The Stimson Center think tank published an analysis on its 38 North website of a number of AI projects under development in the military dictatorship.

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– Bjørn Christian Tørrissen

The analysis does not accuse any specific cloud providers of working with North Korea, but warns that easy access to cloud services could allow the country to use shell companies to access the platforms.

IT sales to the country are blocked, limiting North Korea's ability to build out its own data center infrastructure. The government has, however, successfully evaded sanctions to help develop its weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs.

This can include the use of front and shell companies, and trusted third-party intermediaries.

"To effectively address the potential sanctions and proliferation risks posed by North Korea’s AI/ML endeavors, national authorities should proactively engage with cloud computing service providers and academic/professional associations that host international conferences on emerging technology," Hyuk Kim, of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, said in the 38 North piece.

The report notes that, in 2022, North Korean nuclear scientists published a study into genetic algorithms focused on pressurized water reactors.

Another paper points to the development of a wargaming simulation using reinforcement learning.

One paper included a Chinese collaborator who is associated with China Unicom, a Chinese state-owned telecommunications operator that is itself subject to financial restrictions imposed by the US Treasury Department.

"The conversion of civilian AI technology into military applications poses a substantial risk, particularly in cloud computing environments that sidestep the need for specialized hardware," Kim said.