Justice Department Charges North Korean Over Sony Hack

(CN) — The Justice Department unveiled charges Thursday against a North Korean for the 2014 hack of Sony Pictures over its planned release of the film “The Interview.”

At a press conference in downtown Los Angeles, First Assistant U.S. Attorney Tracy Wilkison announces a criminal complaint on Sept. 6, 2018, in connection to the 2014 hack of Sony Pictures. (NATHAN SOLIS, Courthouse News Service)

Announcing the case at a press conference this morning in Los Angeles, the government charged Pyongyang operative Park Jin Hyok with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and another count of computer-intrusion conspiracy.

Though only unsealed today, the 179-page criminal complaint against Park is dated June 8.

Park is allegedly connected with the Lazarus Group, which has been credited for a number of cyberattacks within the last decade. These include the theft of $81 million from the Bangladesh Bank — part of an attempt in 2016 to steal $1 billion — and the 2015 thefts of $12 million and $1 million, respectively, from the Banco del Austro in Ecuador and the Tien Phong Bank in Vietnam.

Prosecutors say Park hacked Sony in 2014 on behalf of North Korea’s Reconnaissance General Bureau, which controls most of the country’s cyber capabilities. The 2014 film studio hack is believed to have emanated from a pressure campaign by North Korea to have Sony cancel its planned release of “The Interview.”

The comedy starring James Franco, Seth Rogen and Randall Park depicts a satirical assassination of North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-Un. Though the film was something of a box office dud, it pulled in more than $40 million on demand.

“These were not just attacks against computers,” First Assistant U.S. Attorney Tracy Wilkison said at the press conference in downtown Los Angeles. “These were attacks against freedom of speech.”

A wanted poster for Park Jin Hyok is displayed at a press conference in downtown Los Angeles where a criminal complaint was unveiled on Sept. 6, 2018, in connection to the 2014 hack of Sony Pictures. (NATHAN SOLIS, Courthouse News Service)

Park’s prosecution marks the first time the Justice Department has brought criminal charges against a hacker said to be from North Korea, but the U.S. government previously blamed the country for the 2014 Sony hack.

The FBI was also public last year with its belief that North Korea was responsible for the so-called WannaCry cyberattack, in which malware scrambled data across the world at hospitals, factories, government agencies, banks and other businesses.

The Sony hack caused the disclosure of tens of thousands of leaked emails and other materials, but Wilkison called it impossible to quantify the number of victims affected by Park’s actions. The WannaCry ransomware alone infected hundreds of thousands of computers worldwide.

U.S. authorities have also brought charged in recent years against hackers from China, Iran and Russia.

The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control announced parallel sanctions Thursday against any property Park possesses  or controls in United States.

“We will not allow North Korea to undermine global cybersecurity to advance its interests and generate illicit revenues in violation of our sanctions,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement. “The United States is committed to holding the regime accountable for its cyberattacks and other crimes and destabilizing activities.”

The OFAC sanctions include a number of aliases for Park, as well as his passport number and two birthdates, Aug. 15, 1984 and Oct. 18, 1984.

Park is believed to have carried out the hack with co-conspirators, but no one else has been named in the criminal complaint.

 

Courthouse News reporter Nathan Solis contributed to this coverage from Los Angeles.

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