(Washington) A Canadian citizen pleaded guilty to a plot by hackers allegedly linked to North Korea’s military intelligence who attempted to steal more than $ 1.3 billion from banks, governments and companies around the world.
Ghalib Al-Omari, from Mississauga, ON. Accused of conspiracy to launder money on behalf of North Korea in what the US Department of Justice described as a “high-profile criminal plot. Targeting all kinds of institutions, from the Hollywood movie. Studio of the US State Department.”
John Demers, deputy attorney general of the department responsible for national security, described North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s regime as “a criminal association with a flag.”
Demers said North Korean agents “used keyboards instead of guns” to become “the biggest bank robbers in the world.”
He said that the Ministry of Justice “secured the detention of“ Mr. Al-Omari, ”who organized the laundering of millions of dollars that (North Korean pirates) stole. The 37-year-old has dual Canadian and American citizenships.
“He admitted his role in these criminal plots in a plea bargain and he will be held accountable for his behavior,” he added.
A role in several crimes
Prosecutors allege that Al-Omari used co-conspirators “in the United States and Canada” to help launder the proceeds of “cash withdraw” schemes, which involve hacking ATMs to allow for fraudulent withdrawals.
It is also believed to have contributed to internet banking robberies as well as “business email hacking” scams, where criminals use phishing emails to intercept legitimate money transfers.
Royal Canadian Mounted Police officials did not immediately respond to inquiries on Wednesday about the alleged Canadian conspirators of Almary.
Al-Kindi pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. He is also facing charges in Georgia over his alleged involvement in a separate commercial email settlement system.
Long term investigation
The indictment revealed in Los Angeles on Wednesday was just the last step in a long and widespread investigation into the North Korean cyberattacks that surfaced in November 2014.
At this point, Sony Pictures Entertainment was targeted in connection with “The Interview,” a controversial comedy starring Seth Rogen and James Franco who mocked Kim Jong-un, prompting the system to call the film “Act of war” . .
The original 2018 indictment indicted a North Korean programmer of stealing $ 81 million from a Bangladesh bank in 2016 and the WannaCry ransomware attack in 2017.
“The events as described in this complaint provided the first indications that the North Korean regime will focus on stealing money from institutions around the world and will be able to do so,” Demers said.
The same programmer, Park Jin Hyuk, 36, was recently indicted in the indictment on Wednesday, along with two others: Jun Chang Hyuk, 31, and Kim Il, 27.
The administration described them as members of the General Reconnaissance Office, the “military intelligence agency of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea”. None of the three have been detained in the United States.
Allegedly large plot
The alleged plot unfolded on Wednesday is breathtaking on its scale. It includes:
– Cyber attacks on Sony and AMC theaters in 2014 in retaliation for “The Interview”, a feature film that made a mock assassination attempt against Kim Jong-un;
Four years of attempted robbery to steal $ 1.2 billion from banks in Vietnam, Bangladesh, Taiwan, Mexico, Malta and Africa.
– Numerous ATM ‘cash withdrawal’ thefts – hacking devices to facilitate fraudulent withdrawals – worldwide, including 6.1 million from a Pakistani bank in October 2018;
Large-scale phishing campaigns aiming to trick computer users into clicking on fake email links against US defense contractors, space and technology companies, as well as the US State Department and Department of Defense.
A ‘criminal nation-state’
As a nuclear rogue state, North Korea has been the target of international economic and financial sanctions of varying severity over the past fifteen years.
Authorities say this may partially explain why North Korea is turning to cybercrime.
“The scale of their crimes is staggering,” said Acting Attorney General of the United States in California, Tracy Wilson.
“The behaviors detailed in the indictment are the actions of a criminal nation-state that did not stop at anything to avenge and obtain money to support its regime.”