The U.S. Justice Department has indicted three North Korean computer programmers for trying to extort and steal more than $1.3 billion as part of a global cyber scheme that included the 2014 hack of Sony Pictures Entertainment.
A Canadian American who allegedly laundered some of the stolen money also pleaded guilty in the scheme.
North Koreans Park Jin Hyok, Jon Chang Hyok and Kim Il are charged with criminal conspiracy, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud.
Park, a computer programmer for North Korea’s intelligence service, was charged two years ago for his role in the Sony hack.
That hack erased corporate data, obtained sensitive company emails among top Hollywood executives and forced the company to rebuild its entire computer network.
The motivation for the hack was believed to be retaliation for the 2014 movie “The Interview,” which ridiculed North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and even portrayed an assassination plot against him.
As part of the scheme, the Justice Department said, the three plotted to steal more than $1.2 billion from banks in Vietnam, Mexico, Malta and other places. They also stole $75 million from a Slovenian cryptocurrency company and $11.8 million of digital currency from a New York financial services company.
"The scope of the criminal conduct by the North Korean hackers was extensive and long-running, and the range of crimes they have committed is staggering,” Tracy L. Wilkison, acting U.S. attorney for the Central District of California, said in a statement. “The conduct detailed in the indictment are the acts of a criminal nation-state that has stopped at nothing to extract revenge and obtain money to prop up its regime.”
The three are also believed to have been behind the 2017 WannaCry 2.0 ransomware attack, which affected computers in 150 countries and most notably crippled the computer network of Britain’s National Health Service.
The three North Koreans are unlikely to ever appear in a U.S. courtroom.