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U.S. set to charge North Korean spy with Sony hack and WannaCry cyberattack

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The United States Department of Justice is set to indict a North Korean spy connected to the 2014 cyberattack on Sony Pictures Entertainment and the 2017 WannaCry malware that crippled the Britain’s National Health Service. The indictment alleges that Pak Jin-hyok conducted the attack under orders from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s Reconnaissance General Bureau, the country’s intelligence agency that’s seen as North Korea’s version of the CIA.

“While U.S. officials have long said that North Korea was responsible for both incidents, the Justice Department is expected to formally announce the charges against North Korean nationals during a press conference in Los Angeles on Thursday afternoon,” ABC News reported. While the U.S. has explored charging Pak and North Korea with the cyberattack, the indictment process took time “because much of the information against him had been classified and could not be included in a criminal indictment,” The New York Times explained.

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The attack on Sony in 2014 was believed to be done in retaliation for the production of the The Interview, a comedy that mocked North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and involved an assassination plot. Although North Korea did not claim responsibility for the hack at the time — and there was no mention of the film in the attack — the cyberattack occurred after North Korean officials sent a letter urging the United Nations to demand Sony not move forward with the movie. The cyberattack wiped out half of the data stored on Sony’s computers, brought down half of the studio’s servers, and crippled Sony’s operations. Leaked internal emails, confidential contracts, and copies of five Sony films were subsequently posted on the internet.

Hackers eventually claimed credit for the Sony attack in December 2014. “Soon all the world will see what an awful movie Sony Pictures Entertainment has made,” the hacker said. “The world will be full of fear. Remember the 11th of September 2001.” President Obama subsequently imposed sanctions against North Korea.

The subsequent WannaCry malware was a more widespread attack, taking a toll on more than 230,000 computers across 150 countries. The malware’s effects were felt by hospitals, businesses, government organizations, and more, and the Obama administration blamed North Korea for it, a charge that North Korea denied. However, this indictment is the first time that charges have been brought against any individual connected to the North Korean government, The Washington Post reported.

The Justice Department’s charges are proceeding even as President Trump pursues diplomatic avenues aimed at reining in North Korea’s nuclear program. Early Thursday morning, September 6, Trump praised Kim Jong Un in a tweet.

“Kim Jong Un of North Korea proclaims ‘unwavering faith in President Trump.’ Thank you to Chairman Kim. We will get it done together!” Trump said on Twitter.

The Treasury Department is also expected to announce new sanctions on North Korea, the Post reported.

Intelligence officials believe that the Reconnaissance General Bureau is also the culprit behind other recent cyberattacks, including the theft of $1 billion from the Bangladesh Bank in 2016.