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The US Sues North Korean Hackers For Attacks on Banks


North Korea dictator Kim Jong-un during a parade to mark the 75th anniversary of the founding of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea in 2019. (AFP)

The cyber-criminals allegedly stole more than US 1.3 billion.

The US Department of Justice has brought indictments against three North Koreans, accusing them of a worldwide series of "destructive cyber attacks". The men, aged 27 to 36, are believed to have worked for North Korean military intelligence and attempted to loot more than $ 1.3 billion from banks and corporations around the world - from locations in North Korea, Russia and China.

The charges were originally filed in December 2020 and have now been made public. It builds on an earlier criminal case from 2018 and adds further victims and two other North Korean defendants.

North Koreans the leading world cyber-criminals

The complaint, drafted by federal prosecutors, said the suspects were members of a government military intelligence agency in Pyongyang. This agency, also known as the General Bureau of Enlightenment, is responsible for a global plot to steal money to finance the regime or to seek revenge. Blackmail software was used.

Deputy Attorney General John Demers called the accused "the world's leading bank robbers". Only they used keyboards instead of weapons and stole digital wallets with cryptocurrency instead of bags of cash, added Mr. Demers, who is responsible for national security at the US Department of Justice. According to him, illegal hacking activities from North Korea are pursuing different goals than those from Russia, China or Iran: while they aim to steal intellectual property, in the case of the North Koreans it is "almost exclusively about money", obtained through illegal cyber activities.

Mr. Demers said North Korea is one of the "most sophisticated nation-state cyber actors in the world".  And: The country needs money - in view of the international sanctions due to its nuclear program and the economic situation.

The regime needs funding for missiles and new nuclear weapons

According to the prosecutor, banks in Vietnam, Bangladesh, Malta and Mexico, among others, were affected by the hacks. Apart from that, the programmers also wanted the Sony Pictures film studio. In November 2014, the entire computer network of the film studio was paralyzed for weeks, and e-mails from several years had been captured by the hacker attack. The investigators see the cyber attack as an act of revenge for the satire The Interview. The film about a fictional attack on North Korea's ruler Mr. Kim Jong Un is said not to have pleased the North Korean leadership.

According to intelligence services, North Korea has thousands of hackers in action to hack into institutions, companies and scientists in South Korea and around the world. They are all supposed to generate new income - among other things for the domestic military. Most recently, ruler Mr. Kim Jong Un demonstrated new missile types at military parades in October and January; He wants to expand his country's nuclear arsenal.



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