The United States has charged three North Korean hackers for participating in a criminal conspiracy to steal more than $1.3 billion in cash and cryptocurrency through a series of cyberattacks and other financial crimes across the globe, one of which involved a maritime cryptocurrency marketplace.
A federal indictment filed in the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles in December and unsealed this week detailed the charges against the three hackers who working for a military unit of the North Korean regime. The indictment alleges a series criminal cyber activities that the defendants had undertaken both in the United States and abroad for either revenge or financial gain, according to the Department of Justice.
One of the schemes involved setting up a blockchain-based cryptocurrency known as Marine Chain Token that would enable investors to purchase shares of ownership in ships. The DOJ described the details of the scheme in a press release:
“Marine Chain Token and Initial Coin Offering: Development and marketing in 2017 and 2018 of the Marine Chain Token to enable investors to purchase fractional ownership interests in marine shipping vessels, supported by a blockchain, which would allow the DPRK to secretly obtain funds from investors, control interests in marine shipping vessels, and evade U.S. sanctions.“
According to the indictment, the three defendants, were members of the North Korean military unit Reconnaissance General Bureau who were at times stationed by the North Korean government in other countries, including China and Russia, and known by cyber security experts as Lazarus Group and APT38. Other aspects of the indictment includes schemes involving spear-phishing campaigns, cyber bank heists, ransomware attacks, malicious cryptocurrency applications, and targeting cryptocurrency companies.
“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,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Tracy L. Wilkison for the Central District of California. “The conduct detailed in the indictment are the acts of a criminal nation-state that has stopped at nothing to extract revenge and obtain money to prop up its regime.”
The indictment expands on a 2018 case which, among other things, involved the hack on Sony Pictures in response to parody movie “The Interview” and the creation of the WannaCry ransomware attack.
“Today’s unsealed indictment expands upon the FBI’s 2018 charges for the unprecedented cyberattacks conducted by the North Korean regime,” said the FBI Deputy Director Paul Abbate. “The ongoing targeting, compromise, and cyber-enabled theft by North Korea from global victims was met with the outstanding, persistent investigative efforts of the FBI in close collaboration with U.S. and foreign partners. By arresting facilitators, seizing funds, and charging those responsible for the hacking conspiracy, the FBI continues to impose consequences and hold North Korea accountable for its/their criminal cyber activity.”
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