Justice Dept: North Korean hackers stole virtual currency

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WASHINGTON (AP) — North Korean hackers stole millions of dollars from virtual currency accounts and then laundered the stolen funds in hopes of making the crime untraceable, according to a Justice Department civil forfeiture complaint filed Thursday.

The complaint, filed in Washington’s federal court, seeks the forfeiture of 280 virtual currency accounts. It comes months after Justice Department officials accused hackers from North Korea of stealing nearly $250 million worth of virtual currency and charged two Chinese hackers with laundering more than $100 million from the hack.

Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian Rabbitt of the Justice Department’s criminal division said Thursday’s new case “publicly exposes the ongoing connections between North Korea’s cyber-hacking program and a Chinese cryptocurrency money laundering network.”

In the latest complaint, prosecutors laid out what they said were persistent North Korean efforts to attack financial institutions and cryptocurrency exchanges, which are favored for illicit transactions because they are perceived as hard to trace.

In one of the episodes they describe, a hacker gained access to the virtual currency wallets of a U.S.-based company as well as funds held on other platforms, and stole nearly $2.5 million and laundered it through more than 100 accounts.

The case is the latest Justice Department action targeting North Korea over either cyber offenses or sanctions violations. In 2018, federal prosecutors charged a computer programmer working for the North Korean government with cyberattacks that targeted Sony Pictures Entertainment and unleashed the WannaCry ransomware virus that infected computers in 150 countries and crippled parts of the British health care system.

The U.S. Cyber Command is among the federal agencies that participated in the investigation. On Wednesday, it disclosed samples of malicious software that officials said North Korean hackers have been using to target a wide variety of victims.

Assistant Attorney General John Demers, who heads the Justice Department’s national security division, said prosecutors are committed to publicly calling out foreign adversaries for cyber crime.

“Although North Korea is unlikely to stop trying to pillage the international financial sector to fund a failed economic and political regime, actions like those today send a powerful message to the private sector and foreign governments regarding the benefits of working with us to counter this threat,” he said in a statement.

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