(Photo: Yonhap News)
The U.S. Justice Department has charged three North Korean hackers for stealing more than 1.3 billion dollars in crypto and traditional currencies from banks and other targets around the world.
Prosecutors accused Jon Chang-hyok, Kim Il, and Park Jin-hyock of a wide-ranging hacking and malware operation to obtain funds for the North Korean government and its leader, Kim Jong-un, while evading U.N. sanctions.
According to the indictment unsealed Wednesday, the three worked together in the North Korean military intelligence's hacking-focused Reconnaissance General Bureau, better known within the cybersecurity community as the Lazarus Group.
They allegedly operated out of 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' crypto wallets.
In addition, they allegedly robbed digital currency exchanges in Slovenia and Indonesia and extorted a New York exchange of 11.8 million dollars.
The case filed in federal court in Los Angeles builds on 2018 charges against the North's cyberattacks, including the 2014 hack of Sony Pictures Entertainment, the creation of the notorious WannaCry ransomware, and the 2016 theft of 81 million dollars from the central bank of Bangladesh through an ATM cash-out scheme.
In parallel, the department said a Canadian-American had pleaded guilty to one charge of acting as a "prolific" money launderer for the North Koreans.
"As laid out in today's indictment, North Korea's operatives, using keyboards rather than guns, stealing digital wallets of cryptocurrency instead of sacks of cash, are the world's leading 21st century nation-state bank robbers," said Assistant Attorney General John Demers of the Justice Department's National Security Division, in a statement.
The case is the first action against Pyongyang by President Joe Biden's administration, amid ongoing tensions over its development of nuclear weapons and long-range missiles that threaten the United States and allies.
According to State Department spokesman Ned Price, the administration is reviewing policy toward the country.
Price said, "Most frequently we speak of North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile program, but of course, its malicious cyber activity is something we are carefully evaluating and looking at as well."
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