Three North Korean hackers have been charged by federal prosecutors with conspiring to rob more than $1.3 billion from banks and corporations around the world, the Justice Department reported Wednesday.
Authorities identified a series of daring operations carried out by the trio from 2014 to 2020 in an indictment unsealed in California, attacking high-profile movie studios and cryptocurrency dealers with advanced technologies that national security officials said underlined the country's position as a leading threat to cybercrime.
The three hackers are suspected by members of a military intelligence service of carrying out the 2014 attack on Sony in revenge for a film that lampooned the North Korean king, as well as a crippling hit on Bangladesh's central bank in 2016, which netted around $81 million to the rogue country.
They are even said to have coordinated automated blockchain heists and ATM intrusions utilizing novel malware strands.
"As laid out in today's 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 John Demers, director of the National Securities Department of Justice.
According to Kristi Johnson, the assistant director in charge of the FBI's Los Angeles field office, Jon Chang Hyok, Kim Il, and Park Jin Hyok are suspected to be in North Korea. In 2018, prosecutors first sued Park in connection to the banking hacks of Sony and Bangladesh.
The three were also deployed in other countries outside of North Korea, including Russia and China, according to the indictment.
The Justice Department has cautioned that the nation is building some of the most sophisticated capabilities to steal money online, separating it from other US competitors across the globe, while Western sanctions have devastated the North Korean economy.
The North Korean hackers' scale of these crimes is staggering. They are the crimes of a nation-state that has stopped at nothing to gain vengeance and obtain resources to help its dictatorship, "The scope of these crimes by the North Korean hackers is staggering. They are the crimes of a nation-state that has stopped at nothing to exact revenge and obtain money to prop up its regime,"
Officials admitted on Wednesday that the latest charges and wanted posters circulated publicly by the FBI are not likely to result in hackers being prosecuted, but national security officials favor publicizing charges such as these as part of a "name and shame" initiative that brings attention to the issue and acts as an alert to hackers watched by authorities.
A joint advisory and review of some of the malware developed and implemented by the North Koreans in their cryptocurrency heists were also issued on Wednesday by the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security that authorities said was intended to provide the public with information on how to deter intrusions and fix any infections.
The unsealing of the indictment was expected to coincide with the disclosure of a plea bargain signed in a similar case involving a Canadian-American resident, officials from the Justice Department said, who reportedly laundered money for North Korean hackers.
For the North Koreans, who, according to a plea deal, conspired to rob and launder tens of millions of dollars from cyber bank heists, Ghaleb Alaumary was a high-level and trusted money launderer.
According to Jesse Baker, the special agent responsible for the Los Angeles field office of the Secret Service, Alaumary and others laundered the money via bank accounts, wire transfers, and by turning it into cryptocurrencies.