Military hackers charged with $1.3 billion-plus cyber heist

North Korean computer programmers accused of participating in wide-ranging criminal conspiracy

The US Department of Justice has just brought indictment charges against three North Korean military hackers for participating in a wide-ranging criminal conspiracy to steal and extort more than $1.3 billion in money and cryptocurrency from various organisations.

The computer programmers are accused of participating in a wide-ranging criminal conspiracy to conduct a series of destructive cyber-attacks against the financial institutions and companies, and “to create and deploy multiple malicious cryptocurrency applications, and to develop and fraudulently market a blockchain platform”.

A second case revealed that a Canadian-American citizen agreed to plead guilty in a money laundering scheme and admitted to being a high-level money launderer for multiple criminal schemes, including ATM ‘cash-out’ operations and a cyber-enabled bank heist orchestrated by North Korean hackers. “… 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,” says assistant attorney general John C. Demers of the Justice Department’s National Security Division.”

Comments John Hultquist, vice president, Mandiant Threat Intelligence: "Cyber operations are clearly a favoured tool of the North Korean state. They use this capability to spy on their neighbours and competitors. These hackers gather intelligence on South Korea and the US, focusing heavily on political and defence information. Most recently, they have sought information on healthcare and vaccines for COVID-19. On several occasions they have carried out massive cyber-attacks to successfully intimidate others.

“Now, the North Korean state relies on a variety of cybercriminal schemes to fund the regime, which faces considerable pressure from international sanctions. It is no surprise that cybercrime has become a lifeline for North Korea, as they have steadily expanded criminal operations to include new complex heists, extortion and other ingenious schemes."