US charges North Koreans over US$1.3bn theft - RTHK
A A A
Temperature Humidity
News Archive Can search within past 12 months

US charges North Koreans over US$1.3bn theft

2021-02-18 HKT 09:23
Share this story facebook
  • The US has accused North Korea of a "global campaign of criminality". File image: Shutterstock
    The US has accused North Korea of a "global campaign of criminality". File image: Shutterstock
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 US 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.

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 US$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.

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

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."

The case announced on Wednesday was the first open action taken against North Korea by the Biden administration, amid ongoing tensions over Pyongyang's development of nuclear weapons and long-range missiles that threaten the United States and allies. (AFP)