In brief

  • The US Department of Justice has charged three members of the North Korean military intelligence agency with masterminding a huge cyberattack campaign, much of it focused around crypto.
  • The indicted could face up to 35 years in jail, if convicted.
  • The DOJ links the indictment to a case in 2018 that unveiled all about North Korea's cyber campaigns.

The US Department of Justice today unsealed charges against three North Korean military hackers for stealing and extorting more than $1.3 billion from financial institutions and companies, and launching malicious crypto apps and fraudulent blockchain platforms. 

The unsealed indictment brought the allegations against Jon Chang Hyok; Kim Il; and Park Jin Hyok, hackers in their late 20s to their mid 30s who were part of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s military intelligence agency.

The DOJ also unsealed a case in which Ghaleb Alaumary, a Canadian-American, pleaded guilty to laundering money for a crypto bank heist perpetrated by the North Korean hackers in February 2019. Alaumary faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. 

“As laid out in today’s indictment, 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 C. Demers of the Justice Department’s National Security Division, in a statement. 

The unsealed indictment builds upon the FBI’s 2018 charges against North Korea’s cyberattacks. In 2018, the FBI charged the North Korean military with a vast conspiracy of crimes. 

These charges include a cyberattack on Sony Pictures Entertainment and AMC theaters in 2014, a response to its release of “The Interview,” Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s comedy flick about the fictional assassination of North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un. 

Plus, the DOJ accused two North Koreans with the creation of the WannaCry 2.0 ransomware in 2017, a huge cybersecurity attack that held over 300,000 companies ransom, demanding Bitcoin.

Other crypto crimes named in the charges include the release of malicious crypto apps, including Kupay Wallet, CoinGo Trade, Dorusio, CryptoNeuro Trade, which “would provide the North Korean hackers a backdoor into the victims’ computers,” according to the DOJ’s statement today. 

There was also the 2017 and 2018 ICO of “Marine Chain Token,” a project that offered “fractional ownership in marine shipping vessels.” The indictment also accused the hackers of stealing over $100 million from different crypto projects. 

Those named in the indictment unsealed today would face 35 years in prison, if convicted.