Three North Korean hackers charged in $1.3bn cryptocurrency theft

Three North Korean computer hackers have been charged by the US government with stealing more than $1.3bn in cash and cryptocurrency. The stunning cyber attacks impacted companies from banks to Hollywood movie studios, according to the Department of Justice.

Authorities say that the group of hackers are behind a string of attacks, including the 2014 one against Sony Pictures Entertainment after they released The Interview, which depicted the assassination of North Korea’s leader. The men, who are part of a North Korean military intelligence agency, are also accused of creating the “WannaCry 2.0” ransomeware, which impacted the National Health Service in the United Kingdom in 2017.

Jon Chang Hyok, 31, Kim Il, 27, and Park Jin Hyok, 36, stole money while working for the Reconnaissance General Bureau unit. The men are also accused of breaking into banks in Asia and Mexico and Africa between March 2018 and September 2020. It is alleged they compromised the bank’s networks and SWIFT protocols, and deployed malicious applications that targeted cryptocurrency.

They also took control of ATMs to steal cash directly. Authorities also say that a Canadian-American citizen, Ghaleb Alaumary, has separately pleaded guilty to laundering money for the accused hackers.
The indictment against the men was filed in December 2020 but only unsealed in federal court in Los Angeles on Wednesday.

“The scope of the criminal conduct by the North Korean hackers was extensive and long-running, and the range of crimes they have committed is staggering.” said Tracy Wilkinson, the acting US attorney for the Central District of California. And she added: “”he conduct detailed in the indictment are the acts of a criminal nation-state that has stopped at nothing to extract revenge and obtain money to prop up its regime.”

Prosecutors say that one Slovenian cryptocurrency company was ripped off of $75 million, while an Indonesian firm lost $25 million.
The case comes as the valuer of cryptocurrency has spiked by 400 per cent over the last year, with Bitcoin selling for more than $51,000 on Wednesday.