The US has charged three North Korean computer programmers over the theft of $1.3 billion and the well-publicized attack on a Hollywood film starring Seth Rogen and James Franco which depicts Kim Jong-un being assassinated.
The indictment names Jon Chang Hyok, 31, Kim Il, 27, and Park Jin Hyok, 36, as “military hackers” behind the cyberattack on Sony Pictures Entertainment in 2014, allegedly in response to the film ‘The Interview’.
The ‘hack-and-dump’ operation on Sony saw swathes of its data deleted and other information published online, in what was seen to be the North Korean intelligence services retaliating over the controversial movie.
Park was previously charged in a complaint unsealed in 2018 and was named in the new 33-page indictment unsealed on Wednesday, alongside Jon and Kim.
The group’s charges include conspiracy to commit computer fraud and abuse, which carries a maximum prison sentence of five years, and conspiracy to commit wire and bank fraud, which carries a maximum term of 30 years.
Canadian-American citizen Ghaleb Alaumary, 37, from Ontario, pled guilty to laundering some of the trio’s stolen cash, and other crimes including cyber-enabled bank heists, according to the indictment.
“North Korea’s operatives, using keyboards rather than guns, stealing digital wallets of cryptocurrency instead of sacks of cash, are the world’s leading bank robbers,” said Assistant Attorney General John C. Demers.
The wide-ranging indictment also accuses the North Koreans of carrying out the WannaCry ransomware attack in 2017, where hundreds of computers using Windows were hacked across the globe.
Users’ personal data was stolen, and ransoms were demanded in bitcoin. Although only a small amount of money was paid, the total losses from the attack were estimated at $8 billion.
In the indictment on Wednesday, US prosecutors also accused the trio of other cyberattacks and stealing $1.3 billion in cash and cryptocurrency from financial institutions and companies.
They are also said to have created and used several malicious cryptocurrency applications and to have fraudulently marketed a blockchain platform.
North Korean hackers have already been accused of major attacks and thefts this month, including in a UN report which alleged Pyongyang stole more than $300 million last year in a bid to ease the pressure of financial sanctions.
An MP in neighboring South Korea this week accused hackers in the North of an attempted theft of data connected to the Covid-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer.
Lawmaker Ha Tae-keung reported that Seoul’s National Intelligence Service had found that North Korea had used “cyberwarfare” to target Pfizer’s systems, although the drugmaker did not confirm the attack.
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