North Korean hackers charged in US over $1.3bn theft scheme

Published February 19, 2021
The first action against Pyongyang by President Joe Biden’s administration took aim at what the department called “a global campaign of criminality” being waged by North Korea. — Reuters/file
The first action against Pyongyang by President Joe Biden’s administration took aim at what the department called “a global campaign of criminality” being waged by North Korea. — Reuters/file

WASHINGTON: The US Justice Department charged three North Korean military intelligence officials on Wednesday in a campaign of cyberattacks to steal $1.3 billion in crypto and traditional currencies from banks and other targets.

The first action against Pyongyang by President Joe Biden’s administration took aim at what the department called “a global campaign of criminality” being waged by North Korea.

The department accused the three of a wide-ranging hacking and malware operation to obtain funds for their government while avoiding punishing UN sanctions that have cinched off its sources of income.

Over at least seven years, the officials created malicious cryptocurrency applications that opened back doors into targets’ computers; hacked into companies marketing and trading digital currencies like bitcoin; and developed a blockchain platform to evade sanctions and secretly raise funds, the department said.

In 2018, these hackers stole $6.1m from a Pakistani bank’s ATM machines after gaining access to its computer network

The case filed in federal court in Los Angeles builds on 2018 charges against one of the three, identified as Park Jin Hyok.

He was charged with the 2014 hack of Sony pictures, the creation of the notorious WannaCry ransomware, and the 2016 theft of $81 million from the central bank of Bangladesh.

The new charges added two defendants, Jon Chang Hyok and Kim Il.

The allegations said the three worked together in the North Korean military intelligence’s hacking-focused Reconnaissance General Bureau, better known within the cybersecurity community as the Lazarus Group, or APT 38.

In addition to the earlier charges, the three allegedly operated out of North Korea, Russia and China to hack computers using spearfishing techniques, and to promote cryptocurrency applications loaded with malicious software that allowed them to empty victims’ crypto wallets.

They allegedly robbed digital currency exchanges in Slovenia and Indonesia and extorted a New York exchange of $11.8 million.

In a 2018 scheme, they robbed $6.1 million from ATM machines from a Pakistani bank after gaining access to its computer network.

The Justice Department did not specify exactly how much it believed the defendants have stolen altogether.

‘Keyboards instead of guns’

In addition, the charges said, Kim Il developed the blockchain-based digital currency-like “Marine Chain Token” which ostensibly was an instrument for investors to buy shares of shipping vessels.

He marketed opportunities to invest in the scheme in Singapore, without telling potential investors that it was mainly designed to hide ship ownership identities to help North Korea avoid sanctions, the charges said.

All of the actions, the Justice Department said, were to “further the strategic and financial interests of the (North Korean) government and its leader, Kim Jong Un”.

Published in Dawn, February 19th, 2021

Opinion

A joy forever
24 Feb 2021

A joy forever

Keats’ immortal remains can be found in bookshelves everywhere.
Working children
Updated 23 Feb 2021

Working children

It is the govt's responsibility to provide food and shelter so that parents can send their children to school instead of work.

Editorial

Return of militancy
Updated 24 Feb 2021

Return of militancy

Extremism is a hydra-headed monster that needs a sustained, multifaceted approach to vanquish.
24 Feb 2021

FDI decrease

THE more permanent and non-debt-creating FDI inflows to Pakistan have shrunk by a whopping 27pc to a meagre $1.1bn ...
24 Feb 2021

Myanmar protests

THE protests against Myanmar’s Feb 1 military coup have refused to die down, with hundreds of thousands of people...
Poll storm in NA-75
Updated 23 Feb 2021

Poll storm in NA-75

The PTI and PML-N have worsened the situation by sacrificing facts at the altar of political expediency.
23 Feb 2021

Electric vehicles

THE approval of Pakistan’s first electric vehicle policy towards the end of last year has given rise to an ongoing...
23 Feb 2021

Attack on media

THE attack on the head offices of the Jang Group by charged protesters exhibits the kind of pressure that ...