One of the hackers was also charged in 2018 for playing a role in the Sony Pictures hacking and WannaCry ransomware attacks.
The US Department of Justice (DoJ) charged three computer programmers from North Korea, Jon Chang Hyok, Kim Il, and Park Jin Hyok, for instigating a global hacking campaign and extorting a total of $1.3 billion from different companies and banks.
All three programmers have been identified as members of the Korean military intelligence agency. The programmers are charged for conspiracy to commit wire and bank fraud, among other charges. Park was charged in 2018 for playing a role in the Sony Pictures hacking and WannaCry ransomware attacks.
Hackers Stole Digital Wallets
According to the DoJ’s National Security Division Assistant Attorney General John C. Demers, “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.”
The department further noted that it will continue its fight against nation-state cyberattacks using their “unique tools,” Mr. Demers said in a press release.
The hackers are accused of carrying out widespread hacks at the government’s behest and stole funds to benefit the regime. Interestingly, the defendants worked from locations in China and Russia frequently.
Prosecutors claim that North Korea’s criminal hacking is purely profit-driven compared to other nation-state campaigns, such as those launched by Iran, China, and Russia. Their primary focus was intellectual property theft, domestic instability, and espionage.
“North Korea is trying to raise funds through illegal cyber activities,” such as cyber extortion schemes, cryptocurrency, and traditional currency theft, etc., Demers stated.
“They use their cyber capabilities to try to get currency wherever they can do that, and that’s not something that we really see from actors in China or Russia or in Iran.”
Defendants Still Not in US Custody
All three defendants are currently away from the clutches of American agencies despite being charged. Officials also don’t expect them to face prosecution in America anytime soon.
According to DoJ officials, they find indicting foreign government hackers in absentia very productive approach as it sends out a message that they will eventually be implicated.
Moreover, authorities suspect that a 37-year-old Ontario-based US-Canadian citizen, Ghaleb Alaumary, organized the campaign to launder millions of dollars in stolen funds. Alaumary agreed to plead guilty in LA recently and admitted organizing a co-conspirator team for launching several money laundering schemes.