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U.S. sanctions North Korean hackers for Swift hack, WannaCry

Kim Jong un

Washington, Sep 14: The U.S. sanctioned three North Korean state sponsored cyber groups entities it accused of hacking the Swift interbank messaging system and ransomeware attack that crippled Britain ‘s National Health service and Renault SA factories across Europe and diverting the money to support Pyongyang’s “illicit weapon and missile programmes”.

The US Treasury Department specifically sanctioned the Lazarus Group and two of its sub-groups, “Bluenoroff,” and “Andariel” are “agencies, instrumentalities, all of which are controlled by the Reconnaissance General Bureau, North Korea’s primary intelligence bureau.

The Lazarus Group’s malicious cyber activities were blamed for the 2014 cyber attack of Sony Pictures Entertainment and the 2017 WannaCry ransomware attack on countries including the US and Britain.

“Treasury is taking action against North Korean hacking groups that have been perpetrating cyber attacks to support illicit weapon and missile programs,” Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Sigal Mandelker said in a statement on Friday.

“We will continue to enforce existing U.S. and UN sanctions against North Korea and work with the international community to improve cybersecurity of financial networks,” she said.

The sanctions freeze all of the entities’ property and interests in the US, as well as those of other entities that are owned 50 per cent or more by the three groups.

Bluenoroff had attempted to steal more than $1.1 billion from financial institutions by 2018, and successfully carried out such operations against banks in countries including South Korea, Bangladesh and India, the Treasury said, citing industry and press reporting.

Andariel, it said, continues to target the South Korean government in order to gather intelligence, and in September 2016, hacked into the then South Korean defence minister’s personal computer.

Last week a UN panel of experts estimated that North Korea has acquired as much as $2 billion through cyberattacks and said it is conducting investigations into at least 35 reported cyberattacks involving North Korean actors.

Sanctions come as denuclearisation negotiations between the US and North Korea remain deadlocked due to Washington’s insistence on Pyongyang’s complete denuclearisation and the North’s demands for sanctions relief and security guarantees.

By Arti Bali,

Sr Journalist (International Affairs)

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