The FBI has charged North Korean computer programmer Park Jin Hyok over masterminding and being in charge of carrying out a series of high-profile cyber-attacks. The hackers attacks include the 2017 WannaCry ransomware attack and the hacking of Sony Pictures in 2014.
It’s the first time the US has brought criminal charges against a North Korean hacker. The FBI says that Park Jin Hyok was working for a North Korean-sponsored hacking organisation answerable directly to the state security apparatus and hence the North Korean Government. Park Jin Hyok, is believed to currently be in North Korea with very little chance of him leaving the country. It is unlikely he will be extradited because the US has no formal relations with North Korea and the North Korean government was not notified about the charges.
The US believes he was working for a North Korean-sponsored hacking organisation also known as the Lazarus Group which is charged with being behind 2017’s WannaCry cyber-attack, which used malware to scramble data in more than 300,000 computers in 150 countries and is considered the largest scale attack ever launched knocking out hospitals, factories, government agencies, banks and other businesses across the globe including British Health and FedEx. The attack was caused by a self-replicating piece of software that takes advantage of vulnerabilities in older versions of Microsoft Windows, Microsoft announced it had already issued software “patches” for those holes but many companies and individuals have not installed the fixes yet or are using older versions of Windows that the company no longer supports and for which no patch was available.
Park Jin Hyok and the Lazarus Group are also charged with the Sony attack in retribution for The Interview, a comedy film with Seth Rogen and James Franco which centred on a plot to assassinate North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un. It led to the release of a large amount of sensitive corporate and personal employee information including social security numbers, financial records, salary information, as well as embarrassing executive emails and 4 yet-to-be released Sony films, among them Annie and Fury, and costing Sony a rumoured $100 million dollars.
Park Jin Hyok and the Lazarus Group are also charged with the failed Lockheed Martin breach attempt and the Bangladeshi central bank’s hack/heist that saw $81 syphoned through the Philippines and China ultimately ending in North Korea. More money was initially stolen but was later recovered and after months of investigations returned to Bangladesh.
In February 2018 Hackers stole nearly $2 million from India’s City Union Bank this month used tactics similar to those employed in the Bangladesh’s central bank heist. The FBI stopped short from adding this heist to the list but most experts think it to be the work of the Lazarus Group.
The criminal complaint, filed in Los Angeles, alleges the hackers committed several attacks from 2014 until 2018. The investigation is continuing. It is the first time the Justice Department has brought criminal charges against a hacker said to be from North Korea. In recent years the department has charged hackers from China, Iran and Russia in hopes of publicly shaming other countries for sponsoring cyber-attacks on US corporations.