Last year, the USA government became so concerned about North Korea's wide-ranging activity that it issued a dire advisory to cybersecurity professionals and the public about the hazards posed by the country's hackers. The government alleges the men reside in North Korea but were frequently stationed by the DPRK in other countries, including China and Russian Federation.
"North Korea's operatives, using keyboards rather than guns, stealing digital wallets of cryptocurrency instead of sacks of cash, are the world's leading 21st century nation-state bank robbers", US Assistant Attorney General John Demers told a news briefing.
According to the indictment filed in December, the defendants work for the Reconnaissance General Bureau, North Korea's military intelligence agency.
North Korea has emerged in the last decade as among the most sophisticated and threatening hacking forces in the world, according to cybersecurity experts and the USA government.
That same programmer, 36-year-old Park Jin Hyok, was newly charged in Wednesday's indictment, along with two others: Jon Chang Hyok, 31, and Kim Il, 27. The apps gave the North Koreans a backdoor into the users' computers, enabling them to steal tens of millions of dollars, prosecutors said.
In one 2016 heist alone - at the Bangladesh Bank - the hackers are alleged to have made off with $81 million.
On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Justice announced charges against three North Korean operatives.
The indictment describes a broad array of criminal cyber activities undertaken by the conspiracy, in the United States and overseas, conducted for revenge or financial gain.
The indictment alleges that the hacking group's goal was to "further the strategic and financial interests of the DPRK government and its leader, Kim Jong Un" by causing damage, as well as stealing data and money from organizations all over the globe.
The Bangladesh Bank attack, which saw hackers use the Swift messaging system to convince the Federal Reserve Bank of NY to transfer $81 million from the victim's account to accounts they controlled in the Philippines.
The accused allegedly developed and marketed a series of cryptocurrency applications that were advertised as tools to help people manage their crypto holdings.
They allegedly robbed digital currency exchanges in Slovenia and Indonesia and extorted a NY exchange of $11.8 million.
Nevertheless, the Justice Department says the indictment is a way to rally the world against North Korea's computer hacking.
The United Nations estimated in 2019 that North Korea has generated as much as $2 billion from at least 35 cyberattacks targeting banks and cryptocurrency exchanges across over a dozen countries. "These indictments indicate the scale of the fraud Pyongyang engages in to support its other activities, including nuclear weapons and ballistic missile development", he said.
It also unsealed a charge against a Canadian-American for suspected involvement in the laundering of stolen funds.
Prosecutors also announced that Ghaleb Alaumary, 37, of Ontario, Canada, had pleaded guilty to conspiracy, admitting that he laundered money for the alleged North Korean hackers, in part with accounts at banks in Woodland Hills and Inglewood.
For example, the DOJ indictments say these apps were involved in stealing $11.8 million in August 2020 from a financial services company based in NY.