U.S. charges three North Koreans in $1.3 billion hacking spree

FILE PHOTO: A man holds a laptop computer as cyber code is projected on him in this illustration picture taken on May 13, 2017. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/Illustration

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States has charged three North Korean computer programmers with a massive hacking spree that stole more than $1.3 billion in money and cryptocurrency, affecting companies from banks to Hollywood movie studios, the Department of Justice said on Wednesday.

The indictment alleges that Jon Chang Hyok, 31, Kim Il, 27, and Park Jin Hyok, 36, stole money while working for North Korea's military intelligence services. Park had previously been charged in a complaint unsealed in 2018.

The Justice Department said the hackers are responsible for a wide range of criminal activity and high-profile cyber attacks, including a retaliatory November 2014 attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment for producing "The Interview," which depicted the assassination of North Korea's leader.

It also alleged they participated in the creation of the destructive WannaCry 2.0 ransomware - which hit Britain's National Health Service particularly hard when it was set loose in May 2017.

The indictment also pins the blame on the hackers for breaking into banks across south and southeast Asia, Mexico, and Africa by breaking into the financial institutions' networks and abusing the SWIFT protocol, and deploying malicious applications from March 2018 through September 2020 targeting cryptocurrency applications.

Officials added that a Canadian-American citizen has also separately pleaded guilty to laundering some of the alleged hackers' money.

The indictment was filed under seal on Dec. 8, 2020, and unsealed in a federal court in Los Angeles on Wednesday.

Although the three alleged hackers work for the North Korean government, the United States alleges they have been stationed at times in various other countries, including China and Russia.

(Reporting by Raphael Satter; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Sonya Hepinstall)

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