North Korean hackers charged in massive cryptocurrency theft scheme

Bitcoin soared on Tuesday to an all-time high reaching the $50,000 milestone at $50.602.

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Federal authorities said Wednesday that three North Korean computer programmers have been indicted for conducting a series of cyberattacks to steal and extort more than $1.3 billion in cash and cryptocurrency from financial institutions and companies.

The programmers also are accused of creating and deploying “multiple malicious cryptocurrency applications, and to develop and fraudulently market a blockchain platform,” according to a Department of Justice press release.

At the same time, authorities announced that a Canadian-American citizen agreed to plead guilty to charges in a money-laundering scheme, and admitted to helping the indicted North Koreans “cash-out” their “cyber-enabled bank heist.”

Officials said the charges laid out Wednesday expands a case from 2018 that detailed the cyberattack on Sony Pictures and the creation of the ransomware known as WannaCry.

The conspiracy, which officials said was motivated for revenge or financial gain, depending on the target, included the attack on Sony in 2014 for its satirical movie “The Interview,” which depicted the assassination of North Korea, as well as the targeting of AMC Theaters, which showed the film, and a 2015 intrusion into the company Mammoth Screen, which was producing a fictional series that depicted a British scientist taken hostage by North Korea.

Authorities also said that the hackers from 2015 through 2019 tried to steal more than $1.2 billion from banks in Vietnam, Bangladesh, Taiwan, Mexico, Malta and Africa by breaking into their computer networks and sending fraudulent messages over the SWIFT bank messaging system.

“North Korea’s operatives, using keyboards rather than guns, stealing digital wallets of cryptocurrency instead of sacks of cash, are the world’s leading bank robbers,” said Assistant Attorney General John Demers of the Justice Department’s National Security Division.

Tracy Wilkinson, the acting U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California, said, “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.”

Wilkinson also said, “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 filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles charges Jon Chang, 31, 27-year-old Kim Il, and Park Jin Hyo 36, were members of units of the Reconnaissance General Bureau, a North Korean military intelligence agency which engaged in criminal hacking. Authorities noted that Park was previously charged in the September 2018 criminal complaint.

This is breaking news. Check back for updates.

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