US sanctions 3 N.Korean state-sponsored hacking groups

Washington: The US has sanctioned three entities it accused of perpetrating cyber attacks on behalf of the North Korean government to support Pyongyang’s “illicit weapon and missile programs”.

The new measures target the Lazarus Group, Bluenoroff, and Andariel, all of which are controlled by the Reconnaissance General Bureau, North Korea’s primary intelligence bureau, Yonhap news agency reported.

The Lazarus Group’s activities were widely reported after it was blamed for the 2014 cyberattack of Sony Pictures Entertainment and the 2017 WannaCry ransomware attack on countries including the US and Britain.

Bluenoroff and Andariel are sub-groups of the Lazarus Group, according to the US Department of the Treasury.

“Treasury is taking action against North Korean hacking groups that have been perpetrating cyberattacks 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 the 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 percent 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 defense 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.

The latest Treasury measures 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.