Three North Korean computer programmers have been charged with stealing more than US$1.3 billion from banks and Hollywood movie studios.
The US Department of Justice said on Wednesday that the three, all in their 30s, stole money and cryptocurrency while working for North Korea’s military intelligence services.
One charge alleges that the hackers were responsible for a retaliatory 2014 attack on Sony Pictures for producing “The Interview” movie, which depicted a fictional assassination of North Korea’s leader.
“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,” a government prosecutor told a news briefing.
The group is also alleged to have hacked into computers belonging to a UK film company that was working on a drama series about North Korea, as well as being involved in the creation of the destructive WannaCry 2.0 ransomware which played havoc with Britain’s National Health Service in 2017.
The indictment accuses the hackers of breaking into banks across South and Southeast Asia, Mexico, and Africa by using the SWIFT protocol to steal money.
They are alleged to have made off with US$81 million from the Bangladesh Bank alone.
Overall, North Korea has generated an estimated US$2 billion using “widespread and increasingly sophisticated” digital intrusions at banks and cryptocurrency exchanges, according to a UN report.
The three men also conducted campaigns targeting US defence and energy contractors. As part of this, Department of State and Pentagon officials were tricked into sharing their credentials so hackers could access their computers.
“The scope of the criminal conduct by the North Korean hackers was extensive and long-running and the range of crimes they have committed is staggering,” a US government official said.
The North Korean mission to the United Nations in New York did not immediately respond to requests for comment.