Assistant Attorney General John C. Demers, shown at a Washington, D.C. news conference on October 28, 2020, announced Wednesday the indictment of three North Koreans on a wide range of cybercrimes connected to its military. Photo by Sarah Silbiger/UPI | License Photo
Feb. 17 (UPI) -- Federal prosecutors unsealed indictments Wednesday revealing three North Korean computer programmers have been charged with committing a string of cyberattacks and the theft of more than $1.3 billion from financial institutions and other companies internationally.
The indictments have ties to the 2014 Sony Pictures Entertainment cyberattack that exposed embarrassing emails about the company in retaliation for producing the movie The Interview.
The accused hackers have worked for the Reconnaissance General Bureau, which is part of the North Korean military following up on the strategic goals of leader Kim Jong Un, according to prosecutors.
Jon Chang Hyok, 31; Kim Il, 27; and Park Jin Hyok, 36, were named in the indictment for targeting casinos, defense contractors, utilities and others in the United States and numerous other countries.
Prosecutors said Canadian Ghaleb Alaumary, 37, pleaded guilty to conspiracy, admitting he laundered money to assist the North Korean plot. Alaumary was originally arrested in October 2019.
Assistant Attorney General John C. Demers said in a statement that the accused used keyboards rather than guns to steal digital wallets of cryptocurrency among other crimes.
"This case is a particularly striking example of the growing alliance between officials within some national governments and highly sophisticated cyber-criminals," U.S. Secret Service Assistant Director Michael R. D'Ambrosio said.
"The individuals indicted today committed a truly unprecedented range of financial and cyber-crimes, from ransomware attacks and phishing campaigns to digital bank heists and sophisticated money-laundering operations," he said, adding the hackers pose a threat to the international banking system.
Prosecutors accused the trio of being connected not only with the cyberattack on Sony, but cyber-enabled heists from banks in Vietnam, Bangladesh, Taiwan, Mexico, Malta, and Africa totaling $1.3 billion, cyber-enabled ATM cash thefts from Pakistan, ransomware attacks, creating malicious cryptocurrency applications and phishing campaigns.
Authorities described Alaumary as a "prolific money launderer" for the hackers, who organized teams of co-conspirators in the United States and Canada to launder millions of dollars obtained through ATM cash-out operations and other accused crimes.
"The indictment refines the attribution of this crime spree to the DPRK military intelligence services, specifically the Reconnaissance General Bureau," Demers said. "Simply put, the regime has become a criminal syndicate with a flag, which harnesses its state resources to steal hundreds of millions of dollars."