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North Korean hackers charged in US over $1.3bn theft scheme

WASHINGTON: The U.S. Department of Justice accused three North Korean military intelligence officers on Wednesday in a campaign of cyber attacks to steal $ 1.3 billion in cryptography and traditional currencies from banks and other targets.

The first action against Pyongyang by President Joe Biden’s government aimed at what the department called “a global crime campaign” being waged by North Korea.

The department accused the three of a widespread operation of hackers and malware to raise funds for their government, avoiding punishing UN sanctions that restricted their sources of revenue.

For at least seven years, officers created malicious cryptocurrency applications that opened back doors on the targets’ computers; broke into digital currency trading and trading companies like bitcoin; and developed a blockchain platform to avoid sanctions and raise funds secretly, the department said.

In 2018, these hackers stole $6.1m from a Pakistani bank’s ATM machines after gaining access to its computer network

The federal court case in Los Angeles is based on the 2018 charges against one of the three, identified as Park Jin Hyok.

He was accused of hacking Sony photos in 2014, creating the notorious WannaCry ransomware and stealing $ 81 million in 2016 from the central bank of Bangladesh.

The new charges added two defendants, Jon Chang Hyok and Kim Il.

The allegations say the three worked together at the Reconnaissance General Bureau of North Korean military intelligence, better known in the cybersecurity community as the Lazarus Group, or APT 38.

In addition to previous allegations, the three allegedly operated in North Korea, Russia and China to hack computers using spearfishing techniques and to promote cryptocurrency applications loaded with malicious software that allowed them to empty victims’ cryptographic wallets.

They allegedly stole digital exchange offices in Slovenia and Indonesia and extorted a $ 11.8 million New York stock exchange.

In a 2018 scheme, they stole $ 6.1 million from ATMs from a Pakistani bank after gaining access to its computer network.

The Justice Department did not specify exactly how much it believes the defendants have stolen.

‘Keyboards instead of weapons’

In addition, the accusations claim, Kim Il developed the “sea chain token” based on a digital blockchain, which apparently was an instrument for investors to buy shares of transport ships.

He marketed opportunities to invest in the Singapore scheme, without telling potential investors that it was designed primarily to hide ship-owned identities to help North Korea avoid sanctions, the charges said.

All actions, the Justice Department said, were aimed at “promoting the strategic and financial interests of the (North Korean) government and its leader, Kim Jong Un”.

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