Justice Department to announce hacking charges against North Korean operative

By ELLEN NAKASHIMA AND DEVLIN BARRETT | The Washington Post | Published: September 6, 2018

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department will announce computer hacking charges Thursday against a North Korean government spy in connection with the 2014 attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment as part of a broad complaint outlining a series of cyber operations, marking the first time the United States has brought such charges against a Pyongyang operative.

Park Jin Hyok, who is accused of hacking on behalf of North Korea's Reconnaissance General Bureau (RGB), the military intelligence agency that controls most of the country's cyber capabilities, is charged in the attack on Sony, according to U.S. officials. Park is also known as Pak Jin Hek.

He is linked to the Lazarus Group, which has also been implicated in the audacious attempt to steal $1 billion from the Bangladesh Bank in 2016, and to the WannaCry virus that affected more than 230,000 computers in 150 countries last year.

The charges against Park, first reported by ABC News, come as President Donald Trump seeks North Korea's commitment to fully abandon its nuclear weapons program.

On Thursday, the Treasury Department also is expected to announce sanctions on North Korean individuals linked to malicious activities.

Pyongyang has denied allegations of hacking.

North Korea was the last of the United States' four major foreign cyber adversaries to have hacking charges brought against government officials.

Under the Obama administration, indictments were issued in 2014 against five Chinese military officers for alleged cyber-enabled economic espionage, and in 2016 against seven Iranian hackers for allegedly disrupting bank websites and attempting to disrupt a small New York dam.

Last year, the Justice Department indicted two Russian spies and two criminal hackers in connection with the theft of 500 million Yahoo user accounts in 2014

North Korea, though reclusive and impoverished, has been highly aggressive in cyberspace, among the first to deploy disruptive attacks on a large scale – primarily against its arch foe South Korea.

In the attack on Sony, hackers linked to North Korea wiped data from thousands of computers, stole confidential emails whose contents forced the resignation of a top executive, and most alarming of all, pressured the Hollywood studio to pull a satirical film planned for release depicting the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

President Barack Obama, angered by what he saw as an attack on free speech, directed that sanctions be imposed on Pyongyang, including on the RGB.

In 2016, world banking officials were shocked to discover hackers had stolen $81 million from accounts at Bangladesh Bank – and had almost gotten away with nearly $1 billion.

Lazarus Group hackers, officials say, broke into the bank's computers and manipulated its access to a global electronic messaging system known as SWIFT, which banks use to send and receive money transfers.

Using the SWIFT network, hackers tricked the Federal Reserve Bank of New York into sending about $81 million to bank accounts in the Philippines. Most of that money was sent to casinos in Manila and was never recovered.

Last year, officials say, RGB-sponsored hackers deployed WannaCry, a computer virus paired with ransomware that encrypted data on victims' computers and demanded money to restore access. U.S. and British intelligence agencies linked North Korea to the worm. Researchers believe that the virus was accidentally let loose before it was ready, as an operational error made the ransom payments easy to track – including by law enforcement.

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