US accuses North Korean programmers of global hacking

The United States Department of Justice charged three North Korean computer programmers with a wide range of global attacks, the victims of which included banks and a movie studio, federal prosecutors reported.

The indictment, which was just revealed to the public, is part of an earlier criminal lawsuit started in 2018 and adds two other North Korean defendants.

Prosecutors say the three programmers are agents of a North Korean government military intelligence agency. They carried out the cyber attacks on behalf of the government with the aim of using the stolen funds for the benefit of the regime. Sometimes they worked from locations in Russia and China.

The indictment adds that the intelligence body, called the General Reconnaissance Office, is part of a global conspiracy that obtained more than 1.3 billion dollars in various currencies and cryptocurrencies through the extortion of banks and companies; unleashed a widespread campaign of “ransomware”, a malicious computer program that locks a computer and displays a message demanding a ransom to free user data; and he hacked the Sony Pictures Entertainment studio in 2014 because of a Hollywood movie that displeased the North Korean government.

“As today’s indictment points out, North Korean agents, using keyboards instead of weapons, stealing cryptocurrency digital wallets instead of money bags, are the world’s leading bank robbers,” he told Deputy Attorney General John Demers, the Department’s top national security official in the press.

The North Korean criminal hacking model contrasts with that of other adversary nations such as Russia, China and Iran, more interested in espionage, the theft of intellectual property or causing disruptions to democracy.

“What is unique about North Korea is that it tries to collect funds through illegal cyber activities” such as stealing traditional currency and cryptocurrency, Demers said.

Due to its economic system and the sanctions imposed on the country, “they use their cybernetic capacity to try to get money from wherever they can, which is not something we see from actors in China, Russia or Iran,” he said.