United States indicts 3 N. Korean hackers in attempted theft of $1.3b

United States indicts 3 N. Korean hackers in attempted theft of $1.3b”

Hollywood studios and banks were affected in alleged multibillion-dollar cryptocurrency heist.

The prospect of any of the North Korean hackers facing justice in a US court is remote at best given their role in the regime. They live in North Korea but traveled to and worked from Russian Federation and China, the indictment alleged.

Three North Koreans have been indicted in the crippling 2014 Sony Pictures Entertainment hack and a wide-ranging scheme to steal and extort more than $1 billion in cash and cryptocurrency from banks and companies based across the globe, federal prosecutors said Wednesday.

The three defendants - Jon Chang Hyok, Kim Il, and Park Jin Hyok - are said to be members of the Reconnaissance General Bureau, a military intelligence division of North Korea, also known as the Lazarus group, Hidden Cobra, or Advanced Persistent Threat 38 (APT 38).

The Justice Department said the hackers were responsible for a wide range of criminal activity and high-profile intrusions, including a retaliatory 2014 attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment for producing "The Interview" movie, which depicted the assassination of North Korea's leader.

The group is alleged to have targeted staff of AMC Theatres and broken into computers belonging to Mammoth Screen, a United Kingdom film company that was working on a drama series about North Korea. Targeting of hundreds of cryptocurrency companies and the theft of tens of millions of dollars' worth of cryptocurrency, including $75 million from a Slovenian cryptocurrency company in December 2017; $24.9 million from an Indonesian cryptocurrency company in September 2018; and $11.8 million from a financial services company in NY in August 2020 in which the hackers used the malicious CryptoNeuro Trader application as a backdoor. The hackers managed to steal at least $190 million, according to prosecutors, who wouldn't put an exact figure on how much was stolen.

Attempting to steal $1.2 billion from banks in Vietnam, Bangladesh, Taiwan, Mexico, Malta, and Africa by tampering with the SWIFT messaging system.

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"North Korea's operatives, using keyboards rather than guns, stealing digital wallets of cryptocurrency instead of sacks of cash, have become the world's leading bank robbers", said John C. Demers, assistant attorney general for national security.

Hackers in those countries tend to be more focused on stealing intellectual property, gathering intelligence or disrupting USA elections, Demers said. His attorneys did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The Chinese and Russian embassies in Washington also did not immediately reply to requests for comment.

Also undertaken by the conspiracy is a scheme that involved creating malicious applications that masqueraded as legitimate cryptocurrency trading platforms, only to use them as a backdoor to transfer money to their accounts fraudulently.

Another United Nations report from 2019 said that DPRK-backed hackers hitting Asian cryptocurrency exchanges between January 2017 and September 2018 were believed to be behind $571 million in financial losses.

The Canadian American defendant, Ghaleb Alaumary, of Mississauga, Ontario, was a "prolific" money launderer for the three, who allegedly moved millions of dollars through fraudulent ATM transactions involving a network of associates in North America who withdrew cash from the machines.

Alaumary could not immediately be reached for comment.

Alaumary is slated to be sentenced in June in a federal court in Georgia.

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