WASHINGTON – The Justice Department on Wednesday overturned charges against three North Korean intelligence officials accused of hacking numerous corporations and financial institutions in order to thwart US sanctions, illegally fund the North Korean government and control American companies considered public enemies , including Sony Pictures Entertainment.
The indictment is the government’s latest effort to show that North Korea has made brazen, year-long efforts to undermine and attack institutions around the world, and steal millions of dollars, even as the United States and its allies step up and contain efforts Landes and its countries are intensifying nuclear ambitions.
One of the officers, Park Jin-hyok, a member of North Korean military intelligence, was accused by the Justice Department in 2018 of participating in the Sony hacking that crippled the company and in the WannaCry cyberattack on the UK’s National Health Service. and an attack on the Bangladeshi central bank and financial institutions around the world.
Building on that investigation, the Justice Department sued Mr. Park and two other North Korean spies, Jon Chang-hyok and Kim Il, on allegations related to these attacks, as well as new allegations that they attempted to steal more than $ 1.3 billion in digital and digital money Financial institution and corporate currencies.
“Put simply, the regime has become a criminal syndicate with a flag that uses its government funds to steal hundreds of millions of dollars,” said John C. Demers, director of the Department of Justice’s national security division, in a statement.
The prosecutors declined to say how much money the hackers actually received.
Separately, federal prosecutors accused 37-year-old Ghaleb Alaumary, a dual citizen of the United States and Canada, of organizing a network of people in those countries to launder millions of dollars that the North Korean government received from the hackers. Mr. Alaumary pleaded guilty to the charges.
Wednesday’s general indictment supports the findings of a report released this month by Recorded Future, a cybersecurity research group, that concluded that North Korea is significantly expanding its ability to use the internet to fund its government has, despite the US and its allies, cut oil supplies and imposed severe sanctions on the country.
The report also found that North Korea has significantly improved its ability to steal cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin.
The indictment shows how adept Pyongyang is at exploiting the world of such cryptocurrencies as the value of Bitcoin exceeded $ 50,000 and large corporations and financial institutions began to use digital currencies.
The Justice Department accused intelligence officials of luring investors into a fake digital coin investment program, stealing cryptocurrencies from financial institutions, and creating malware to target cryptocurrency apps and take control of victims’ computers.
Mr. Jon and Mr. Kim were accused of working with Mr. Park to engage in illegal hacking programs from North Korea, China and Russia back in 2014 when they attacked Sony in retaliation for the company’s decision to make and release a movie . “The Interview,” which portrayed a conspiracy to kill Kim Jong-un, the leader of North Korea.
The catastrophic attack wiped out 70 percent of the company’s computing capabilities, disrupted operations, and contributed to the resignation of the studio’s chairman, Amy Pascal.
After the Sony attack, prosecutors said the three men used malware-laden phishing emails to gain access to Bangladesh Bank computers connected to the global banking communications system and eventually expelled the Federal Reserve Bank of New York started transferring money from Bangladesh to bank accounts controlled by the hackers. They could only steal $ 81 million when an official at the reserve bank noticed the word “foundation” was misspelled, reviewed the transaction, and halted the transfer of another $ 900 million, according to government documents in the Mr. Park case.
The three men also used the crippling WannaCry malware to infiltrate and paralyze the UK healthcare system’s computer network and attempted to break into the computer networks of US defense companies.
These plans were widely known as they made up most of the indictments against Mr. Park that were revealed three years ago.
However, federal prosecutors also uncovered new allegations that the hackers withdrew money from ATMs, resulting in $ 6.1 million being stolen from BankIslami Pakistan alone. that they used the WannaCry ransomware to extort money from victims after it was used against the UK healthcare system; and that only last year they tried to break into energy, aerospace and technology companies, as well as government and defense departments.
The hackers have been charged with attempting to steal more than $ 1.2 billion from banks around the world, most recently in 2019 when they infiltrated the computer systems of a bank in Malta and sent commands to transfer funds, according to prosecutors.
However, some of their most notable schemes involved cryptocurrency.
The three men allegedly created at least nine pieces of malware disguised as software for trading or storing cryptocurrencies and giving them access to their victims’ computers. Last summer, they used one of these malware to steal $ 11.8 million worth of cryptocurrency from an unspecified New York financial institution that they were also trying to blackmail.
They also created an initial coin offering – essentially an initial public offering to raise money for a new digital coin – for a digital token called the Marine Chain Token, which supposedly allowed investors to buy interest in ships. They were accused of using fake identities to woo the potential investors in Singapore and planned to get approval for public trading in Hong Kong without revealing that the money raised from investors would actually be used to US -Sanctions against North Korea to evade charges.
And they have been accused of stealing tens of millions of dollars worth of cryptocurrency, including more than $ 111 million from companies in Slovenia, Indonesia and New York.
Mr Demers said during a press conference that there is little chance any of the men who live in North Korea will be arrested. However, the Justice Department has publicly disclosed their identity and the allegations made against them in order to show the public the severity of the threats from countries such as North Korea. The department also wanted to show that it was able to identify the criminals behind cyberattacks and warn the hackers and the countries that support them, he said.
“If we have the choice here of remaining silent as we in the department watch nations engage in malicious, non-conforming cyber activity or indict these cases, the choice is obvious,” Demers said in a statement. “We’ll recharge them.”