Three North Korean Hackers Indicted in US Federal Court
The United States Justice Department has lodged charges in federal court against three North Korean nationals in a massive nation-state cybercrime operation. The North Korean hackers are suspected of being part of the origination team for the legendary WannaCry ransomware as well as actors in an extensive array of cybercrimes including cryptocurrency scams and cyberattacks that impacted scores of organizations including Sony Pictures, Britain’s Nation Health Service (NHS), and banks on three continents.
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Officials allege that starting in 2014, the suspects worked as nation-state hackers and began their cybercrime operations as part of a North Korean response to the release of a Sony Pictures film disparaging that country’s leader. Those operations included:
- Creating and distributing several strains of malware including three variations of WannaCry ransomware its associated arts including WannaCrypt, Wana Decrypt0r 2.0, WanaCrypt0r 2.0 and Wanna Decryptor.
- WannaCry and its variants are estimated to have infected about 200,000 computers across 150 countries that used Windows XP and Windows 7.
- Organizations impacted by that malware include NHS, FedEx, Boeing, Honda, Nissan and hundreds more.
- WannaCry ransomware was also used in attacks against world governments including targets in India, Russia, Ukraine and Taiwan.
- The gang demanded payment in cryptocurrency and is estimated to have taken in $130,634.77 (51.62396539 XBT) in just its first round of attack in 2017.
- Officials allege that this group is behind repeated spear-phishing campaigns from 2016 through early 2020 that targeted employees of the US Defense Department, the State Department, and workers at U.S.-cleared defense contractors, energy firms, aerospace companies and tech firms.
- The suspects have also been charged in other schemes including electronic bank heists, money laundering, cryptocurrency scams and more hacking-related offenses.
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Ransomware has been a constant menace to cybersecurity professionals as it has evolved and grown. Worldwide, ransomware attacks grew by nearly 150 percent in 2020, including more than 40 percent in Q3 2020 alone. It’s not a problem that is going away anytime soon either. It’s just too profitable. Ransomware-related cybercrime costs expected to exceed $20 billion this year according to research by Cybersecurity Ventures, with a new ransomware attack launched every 11 seconds.
It’s also the preferred weapon of nation-state cybercriminals. More than 40 percent of nation-state cyberattacks consist of a phishing email that’s laced with ransomware. Attacks by nation-state actors aren’t just a government problem. Over 90% of security alerts released by Microsoft about nation-state cyberattacks in 2020 warned of danger against non-governmental or infrastructure targets. Businesses and organizations in diverse industries are in their sights, with technology companies leading the pack as the targets of 60 percent of nation-state cyberattacks.
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