A new advisory issued by the US Department of Homeland Security's National Cyber Awareness System warns that North Korea is launching new attacks against US and western financial institutions. And in a new development, the cyber actors of North Korea's various intelligence bureaus are now generating cash by offering their services for hire, rather than simply engaging in criminal activity for their own benefit.
"Though we knew that these operators were involved in freelancing and other commercial activity such as software development, we had no evidence that they were carrying out intrusions and attacks on behalf of anyone other than the North Korean regime," said John Hultquist, senior director, Intelligence Analysis, at FireEye, in an emailed comment. "It's not uncommon for states to tap commercial or criminal talent, which then carries on parallel criminal activity, but it is rare for us to find evidence of state actors carrying out criminal side operations with the government's knowledge."
North Korea's attacks on financial institutions aren't new, but today's advisory provides heightened warning of new and evolving activity against financial critical infrastructure targets.
"As we discovered with TrickBot 'Anchor' cybercrime group, this report explores a continuous trend of the North-Korean state-sponsored actors known as 'Lazarus' leveraging cybercrime proxies and criminal illicit access to enable financial crime," explained Vitali Kremez, head of SentinelLabs (the research division of SentinelOne), in an emailed comment.
Both direct and associate attacks, Kremez says, will likely continue because "the proxy cybercrime-enabled activities still remain the viable attack vector for Lazarus intrusions affecting the global financial economy with the end goal of sponsoring the North Korean political regime."
According to DHS, attacks explicitly attributed to North Korea's cyber actors include the Sony hack, WannaCry 2.0, and exploits of a digital currency exchange. New tactics include cyber-enabled financial theft and money laundering, extortion campaigns, and cryptojacking.
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