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US accuses North Korean hackers of stealing more than a billion dollars on behalf of the government

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1 year ago
Topics: Blogging, News

The USA accuses hackers of the Democratic People's Republic of North Korea to have committed a plethora of cyber crimes: from hacking a crypto exchange to ransomware and ICO fraud. The chances of actually bringing the hackers to justice are tiny - but that is unlikely to have been the aim of the spectacular indictment.

When the organs of the American judiciary publish a press release, they usually follow a certain pattern: First, the case is presented, usually relatively dry and without any discernible dramaturgy. But then follows a battery of quotes in which the directors of the authorities involved outbid each other in fluffy words to inflate the meaning of a lawsuit or arrest as much as possible.

The lawsuit the Justice Department filed in Los Angeles District Court last week is no exception. The case is a "shining example of how a national government works with highly professional cybercriminals," says Michael R. D'Ambrosio, Assistant Director of the Secret Services. The public-private partnership in North Korea has committed “financial and cyber crimes on a truly unprecedented scale”.

But the lawsuit is also sensational; World politics in a nutshell: The three North Koreans Jon Chang Hyok (전 창혁), 31, Kim Il (김일), 27, and Park Jin Hyok (박진혁), 36, are charged as members of the Reconnaissance General Bureau (RGB), one Unit of the Military Intelligence Service of the People's Democratic Republic of North Korea for having committed an endless series of cybercrimes. The North Korean agents "use keyboards instead of guns and they steal cryptocurrencies instead of bags of cash," said Attorney General John C. Demer of the Department of Justice's National Security Division (NSI). The "greatest bank robbers in the world" have, according to the lawsuit

  • Sony attacked in an attempt to prevent the film "The Interview" from being broadcast,

  • more than $ 1.2 billion stolen from banks by hacking local clients for the SWIFT system which mainly affected banks from the third world,

  • Money atoms hacked and cash paid out, for example $ 6.1 million in Pakistan,

  • Ransomware sent out, such as WannaCry 2.0 , which went around the world in May 2017 and became famous for example through railway billboards ,

  • Blackmailed companies for stealing sensitive data and using ransomware

  • published various fake crypto apps to spread through this malware,

  • Hundreds of crypto companies attacked and some cryptocurrencies were stolen, including $ 75 million from a stock exchange in Slovenia and $ 11.8 million from a New York financial company,

  • the Marine Chain Token issued by an ICO. With this token, investors (allegedly) were able to acquire shares in North Korean cargo ships, which allowed the country to circumvent the financial sanctions imposed by the USA.

For these acts, the US Department of Justice accuses the three North Korans of computer fraud and gang-style financial fraud, two crimes that can be up to 35 years in prison.

The accusation is anything but new. It has been proven for years that North Korea is behind hacks on exchanges, behind ransomware, the marine chain token and fake apps. In the cybersecurity scene, the North Korean hacking group has long been known by the code names Lazarus and Advanced Persistent Threat 39. However, it is of course unclear how concrete the links between the hackers and the government of North Korea are.

One would also like to know how the FBI and NSI investigators found the hackers, and how strong the evidence is that an organ of the North Korean government is actually behind this plethora of cybercrimes. After all, another government is not lightly accused of being the head of a gang of virtual crooks. On this subject, however, the press release remains vague. She only writes of an "investigation" led by the Los Angeles FBI office, which worked closely with other FBI offices and had the support of the Secret Service and a "Global Investigative Operations Center".

Apparently, however, the FBI and prosecutors presented enough evidence to the court to obtain approval to seize cryptocurrencies that the hackers had stolen from the New York financial services company. The Justice Department confiscated an account on a crypto exchange that contained around $ 1.9 million in various coins. The press release promises that these will be returned to the victims in the end.

The three hackers, however, are still at large. The FBI has published mug shots for Jon Chang Hyok, Kim Il and Park Jin Hyok, but the chances of getting hold of them are slim. Although they have been seen in China, Russia or Singapore in the past, they usually appear to stay in North Korea. Park Jin Hyok has been sought unsuccessfully since 2018 because of its participation in WannaCry.

What remains, however, is the seizure of $ 1.9 million in cryptocurrencies. The US government is doing what it can to protect the interests of New York financial companies - even when it comes to cryptocurrencies. This is probably the key message behind the pithy words of the press release.

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