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US Slaps Sanctions on Three North Korean Cyber Groups

The US Treasury has finally announced sanctions on three notorious North Korean state hacking groups, which it accused of attacks designed to generate money for the country’s illegal weapons program.

The Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) said on Friday that the sanctions would apply to Lazarus Group, Bluenoroff and Andariel. It effectively demanded that global banks block any transactions related to the groups.

All three entities have been pegged as under the control of the Reconnaissance General Bureau (RGB), Pyongyang’s primary intelligence agency.

Lazarus Group is the largest and best known, having been blamed for the destructive malware attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment and WannaCry. Along with Bluenoroff hackers it is also said to have launched the daring $80m cyber-heist on Bangladesh Bank.

While Lazarus Group targets range far and wide — including government, military, financial, manufacturing, publishing, media, entertainment, international shipping and critical infrastructure — Bluenoroff was apparently set up explicitly with the aim of making money to overcome global sanctions on North Korea.

Andariel, meanwhile, is apparently focused on hacking ATMs, stealing customer information to sell on the dark web, and stealing from online gambling sites, as well as hacking South Korean military systems to gather intelligence.

The groups’ efforts also focused on cryptocurrency exchanges in a bid to generate more funds for Pyongyang’s missile and nuclear weapons programs, the Treasury claimed.

This chimes with allegations from the UN, denied by North Korea, that the hermit nation had amassed a trove of $2bn from “at least 35 reported instances of DPRK actors attacking financial institutions, cryptocurrency exchanges and mining activity” across 17 countries.

“Treasury is taking action against North Korean hacking groups that have been perpetrating cyber-attacks to support illicit weapon and missile programs,” said Sigal Mandelker, Treasury under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence. 

“We will continue to enforce existing US and UN sanctions against North Korea and work with the international community to improve cybersecurity of financial networks.”

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