US charges North Korean computer programmers in global hacks

The Interview movie

North Korean Hackers Charged with Stealing Over $1.3 Billion in Cryptocurrencies and Cash

Three North Koreans have been charged in the USA over a scheme to steal and extort more than $1.3bn (£940m) from banks and businesses around the world.

That same programmer, 36-year-old Park Jin Hyok, was newly charged in Wednesday's indictment, along with two others: Jon Chang Hyok, 31, and Kim Il, 27.

The department released wanted photos of the three men, who are believed to be in North Korea.

The victims included Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc.

The criminal schemes also include a cyberattack on Sony Pictures Entertainment in November 2014 "in retaliation" for the film "The Interview", which depicted a fictional assassination of the North Korean leader.

At the same time, prosecutors announced a plea deal with a dual U.S.

"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", Mr Demers said. Gen. John Demers of the Justice Department's National Security Division.

"The regime has become a criminal syndicate with a flag, which harnesses its state resources to steal hundreds of millions of dollars", Demers said.

The overall amount of money stolen by the hackers is not clear because in some cases the thefts were either halted or reversed. Prosecutors said they stole $81 million from a Bangladesh bank in 2016 using the interbank transfer system known as SWIFT. He also laundered money from a North Korean cyber heist of a Maltese bank in 2019, prosecutors said. These "are the acts of a criminal nation-state that has stopped at nothing to extract revenge and obtain money to prop up its regime".

North Korea has emerged in the last decade as among the most sophisticated and threatening hacking forces in the world, according to cybersecurity experts and the US government.

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. Many have linked hacking income from sources like the WannaCry malware and crypto exchange CoinCheck with the nuclear weapons program.

US State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters on Wednesday that North Korea's cyber activities threaten the United States and other countries around the world, and pose a significant threat to financial institutions. They live in North Korea but traveled to and worked from Russian Federation and China, the indictment alleged.

Ghaleb Alaumary, 37, of Ontario, admitted to being a "high-level" money launderer for multiple criminal schemes including ATM "cash out" operations and a cyber related bank heist orchestrated by North Korea, prosecutors said. "Their need as a country is for currency because of their economic system and the sanctions placed on them".

Alarmingly to United States officials, the defendants worked at times from locations in Russian Federation and China.

As the U.S. announced its case against the North Koreans, the government was still grappling with an intrusion by Russian Federation of federal agencies and private corporations that officials say was aimed at information-gathering.

Although the individuals are unlikely to be extradited and brought to trial, Jon, Kim, and Park are charged with one count of conspiracy to commit computer fraud and abuse and one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud. If apprehended and convicted, they could each face up to 35 years in prison.

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