The US Treasury Department has further sanctioned North Korea for its long-established efforts to hack financial institutions around the world, saying the money is used to help fund the country’s missile programs.
Specifically, the US announced sanctions against three North Korean state sponsored cyber groups responsible for “malicious cyber activity on critical infrastructure,” the Treasury Department announced in a statement on Friday.
The US claims the group known as the “Lazarus Group,” and two of its sub-groups, “Bluenoroff,” and “Andariel” are “agencies, instrumentalities, or controlled entities of the Government of North Korea.”
“Treasury is taking action against North Korean hacking groups that have been perpetrating cyber attacks to support illicit weapon and missile programs,” Sigal Mandelker, Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence said in a statement. “We will continue to enforce existing US and UN sanctions against North Korea and work with the international community to improve cybersecurity of financial networks.”
The ‘Lazarus Group’ was involved in the WannaCry 2.0 ransomware attack in 2017, which the US and other allies said was the work of the North Korean government.
For years, North Korea’s intelligence apparatus has heavily targeted victims where they can directly siphon money, like the Bank of Bangladesh in 2016.
The practice has become extremely lucrative: Earlier this year, the United Nations said that the country’s habit of hacking bitcoin exchanges has netted as much as $2 billion.
Specifically, the US said that hacking functions to “potentially fund North Korea’s WMD and ballistic missile programs.”
“They’re essentially calling out their criminal activity that’s been going on for four years,” John Hulquist, the director intelligence analysis for FireEye, which tracks North Korea’s cyber activity, told CNN. “The real question is will the sanctions have any effect.”
North Korea’s adoption of cybercrime as a major means of funding the regime has a cyclical effect: it was likely adopted as a response to international sanctions making it difficult to make money, but further isolates the country on the world stage, which may make it even more dependent on hacking to stay financially float.
“Just because it might not stop the behavior doesn’t mean we shouldn’t illuminate it,” Hulquist said. “It’s still the right thing to do and maybe the smart thing to do because it’s on the table now for negotiations,” he said.
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