The US Justice Department is accusing North Korea of stealing crypto and traditional currencies and is charging 3 military intelligence officials with the alleged crime. President Joe Biden is calling the incident a “global campaign of criminality.”

The accusations include hacking and malware operation cyberattacks to steal $1.3 billion US dollars from banks and other institutions. The actions were allegedly under the radar to avoid UN sanctions that have cut off sources of the government’s income.

The US government says the stealing occurred over the last 7 years as the 3 officials allegedly created malicious cryptocurrency applications, hacking into the marketing and trading companies that include bitcoin. The case has been filed in the Los Angeles’ federal court and is built on the 2018 charges against 1 of the 3 officials, named Park Jin Hyok.

Hyok was accused in 2018, before the other defendants were identified, for allegedly stealing $6.1 million from Pakistan’s Bank Islami ATM machines after gaining access to its computer systems. Now the US government says all 3 worked together in that instance.

Hyok was also charged in 2014 with hacking Sony pictures, creating the WannaCry ransomware as well as the theft of $81 million US dollars from Bangladesh’s central bank.

Jon Chang Hyok and Kim Il join Park Jin Hyok in being accused of working together in the Reconnaissance General Bureau, which is known within the cybersecurity community as the Lazarus Group, or APT 38.

The 3 allegedly operated out of North Korea, Russia and China to hack computers that allowed them to empty victims’ crypto wallets. They also allegedly robbed digital currency exchanges in Slovenia and Indonesia and extorted a New York exchange of $11.8 million US dollars.

Kim Il has also been accused of developing the blockchain-based digital currency-like “Marine Chain Token” which was used as a fake instrument for investors to buy shares of shipping vessels. He is accused of not telling potential investors that it was designed to hide ship ownership identities to help North Korea avoid sanctions.

Assistant Attorney General John Demers says North Korea used keyboards rather than guns to steal cryptocurrency over bags of cash.

“Nation-state indictments like this are an important step in identifying the problem, calling it out in a legally rigorous format, and building international consensus.”

The case is the first open action taken against North Korea by the Biden administration, amid ongoing tensions over Pyongyang’s development of nuclear weapons and long-range missiles that could be dangerous to the United States and allies.

State Department spokesman Ned Price said the administration is “reviewing policy toward the country.”

SOURCE: Bangkok Post

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