The U.S. has brought charges against North Korean computer programmer Park Jin Hyok for his work on the 2014 Sony Pictures hack, as well as numerous other hacks involving world banks. The Sony Pictures security breach resulted in tens of thousands of leaked emails and terabytes of other materials that led to co-chairman, Amy Pascal, getting fired. Officials believe that Hyok lives in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang.
Officials say that Park Jin Hyok is accused of being part of a conspiracy to hack on behalf of North Korea’s Reconnaissance General Bureau. The Reconnaissance General Bureau is North Korea’s military intelligence agency that handles cyber-related issues and this is the first time that the U.S. has brought charges against a Pyongyang operative. Hyok and his operatives also reportedly worked for the Lazarus Group who tried to steal $1 billion from a Bangladesh Bank back in 2016. The group is also responsible for the WannaCry 2.0 virus, which infected over 230,000 computers throughout 150 countries in 2017.
In addition to the charges against Park Jin Hyok, the Treasury Department also imposed sanctions on him and the Chosun Expo Joint Venture, who had hired Hyok in the past. It is believed that Hyok worked for Chosun Expo in different areas, such as China and Dalian, which is near the North Korean Border. He returned to Pyongyang in 2014, in time for the massive hack against Sony Pictures. Dmitri Alperovitch, co-founder of CrowdStrike says that “North Korea’s cyber-forces are among the most disruptive in the world today,” and notes that they are just getting better over time.
The hacking operative called themselves the Guardians of the Peace in 2014 when they hacked into Sony Pictures in retaliation for Seth Rogen and James Franco’s The Interview, which depicts the two actors going to North Korea to assassinate Kim Jong Un. Pyongyang demanded that Sony pull the movie and also targeted AMC Theaters and threatened them with terrorist acts as well. In the end, Sony pulled the movie right before its release and made it available for rental and purchase. Before that, Sony delayed the release of the film from October to December to try and make it more acceptable for North Korea.
The complaint against Park Jin Hyok is 179 pages long, with Assistant Attorney General John Demers calling the cyber-attack “staggering” in scope. The charges against Hyok come at a time as President Donald Trump is trying to work with Kim Jong Un to try and get North Korea to fully commit to abandoning its nuclear weapons program. Though there is a bunch of evidence that North Korea is responsible for the hack, which has been known since late 2014, Pyongyang still denies any involvement. The U.S. government also believes that North Korea will continue to conduct cyber-attacks, even after these latest charges. This story was first reported by The Washington Post.