WASHINGTON (AP) — A computer programmer accused of working at the behest of the North Korean government was charged Thursday in connection with several high-profile cyberattacks, including the Sony Pictures Entertainment hack and the WannaCry ransomware virus that affected hundreds of thousands of computers worldwide.
Park Jin Hyok, who is believed to be in North Korea, conspired with others to conduct attacks that also stole $81 million from a bank in Bangladesh, according to the Justice Department’s criminal complaint.
The U.S. government has previously said that North Korea was responsible for the 2014 Sony hack. That attack led to the release of a trove of sensitive personal information about Sony employees as well as four yet-to-be released Sony films.
The FBI had long suspected that North Korea was also behind the last year’s WannaCry cyberattack, which used malware to scramble data at governments and businesses across the globe.
U.S. officials believe the Sony hack was retribution for “The Interview,” a comedy film that starred Seth Rogen and James Franco and centered on a plot to assassinate North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un.
Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, issued a statement calling Kim “North Korea’s petty little despot’’ for hacking Sony Pictures “because he didn’t like a movie that a free and open society produced.” Sasse said it’s important to push back against North Korea’s cybercrimes.
The criminal complaint alleges that the hackers committed several attacks from 2014 until 2018. It is the first time the Justice Department has brought criminal charges against a North Korea hacker. It is unlikely that he will be extradited because the U.S. has no formal relations with North Korea.
The charges are being unveiled on the same day that President Trump praised North Korea’s Kim on Twitter and as the administration has been working to improve relations with the longtime antagonist of the United States. Trump and Kim met in June to discuss North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.
South Korean officials said Thursday, after meeting with Kim this week in Pyongyang, that Kim still has faith in Trump’s commitment to ending their nations’ hostile relations, but he’s frustrated by questions about his willingness to denuclearize and wants his “goodwill measures” to be met in kind.