Alleged North Korean spy charged in multiple cyber attacks worldwide
Deirdre Shesgreen and Bill Theobald
Published 3:57 PM EDT Sep 6, 2018
WASHINGTON – The Department of Justice announced charges Thursday against an alleged North Korean spy in connection with the 2014 cyberattacks on Sony Pictures, the theft of $81 million from a bank and launching malware that crippled hundreds of thousands of computers.
Assistant Attorney General John Demers announced the complaint charging Park Jin Hyok with conducting the hacking operations on behalf of North Korea’s government. He is the only one named in the complaint, though others were involved, Justice Department officials said.
Hyok had been working as a computer programmer in China and had returned to North Korea in 2014 shortly before the attack on Sony.
The Trump administration concluded last year that North Korea was responsible, but then-Homeland Security Adviser Thomas Bossert suggested the U.S. had little recourse in the case.
“It’s not about holding a country accountable,” Bossert said last December. “We’re going to shame them for it.”
Thursday’s action also included sanctions, levied by the Treasury Department, against Hyok and the Korea Expo Joint Venture, the North Korean government entity that employed Hyok. The criminal charges against an accused North Korean government operative could be seen by Pyongyang as a more direct slap than Bossert’s public shaming strategy.
“This indictment is the result of years of hard work by the FBI and the Department of Justice, and it is an important step in making clear to our adversaries that these kinds of criminal activities are unacceptable,” said Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Earlier Thursday, however, President Donald Trump tweeted a positive message to North Korea’s Kim Jong Un.
“Kim Jong Un of North Korea proclaims ‘unwavering faith in President Trump.’ Thank you to Chairman Kim. We will get it done together!” Trump tweeted, referring to the two countries’ effort to negotiate a denuclearization agreement.
The 2017 WannaCry attack crippled thousands of computers around the world with software that spread among Windows computers, particularly those using older operating systems. The malware infected machines, froze them and then demanded a $300 ransom to be paid in the cryptocurrency Bitcoin.
The WannaCry attack hit more than 200,000 victims in 150 countries, most notably paralyzing more than 20 percent of hospitals in the United Kingdom.
“The attack was widespread and cost billions, and North Korea is directly responsible,” Bossert wrote in a December 2017 Wall Street Journal op-ed.
Hyok, thought to still be in North Korea, was charged with conspiracy to commit extortion, unauthorized access and wire fraud.
Soon after the attack, experts at the global cybersecurity firm Symantec found that earlier versions of the WannaCry ransomware were discovered on computers that also bore evidence of the cybertools used against Sony Pictures Entertainment, banks in Poland and Bangladesh’s central bank. All of those attacks were linked to North Korea.
The money was stolen from the Bangladesh Bank, officials said, by sending messages to the Federal Reserve Bank in New York that automatically transferred the money to accounts in the Philippines and Sri Lanka. Only a small portion of those funds have been recovered, officials said.
In the 2014 attack on Sony, the United States accused North Korea of hacking the company’s computers in retaliation for the creation of a comedy titled “The Interview” that was about a CIA plot to kill North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Officials said the entertainment firm AMC was also targeted in an attempted attack.
Demers said Thursday’s announcement adds North Korea to the list of China, Russia and Iran as countries that have been accused of cyberattacks.
Contributing: Melanie Eversley and Jane Onyanga-Omara
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