North Korea’s government announced on 8 September that it was ready to resume talks with the United States in the second half of September.
DPRK leader Kim Jong-un has been calling for more flexibility on the part of Washington, particularly with regard to sanctions, amid stalled talks between Pyongyang and the United States.
The US Treasury Department has issued new North Korea-related sanctions targeting three groups, the Treasury said on its website.
The sanctions are imposed on hacking groups known as Lazarus Group, Bluenoroff, and Andariel.
The Treasury said in a press release that “North Korean state-sponsored malicious cyber groups [were] responsible for North Korea’s malicious cyber activity on critical infrastructure”, adding that they are “controlled entities of the Government of North Korea”.
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The Lazarus Group and its sub-groups Bluenoroff and Andariel have targeted government, military, financial, manufacturing, publishing, media, entertainment, critical infrastructure, and international shipping companies, the Treasury Department said.
The group was involved in the WannaCry 2.0 ransomware attack that affected 150 countries and caused the shutdown of some 300,000 computers, and was also behind the 2014 cyberattacks on Sony Pictures Entertainment, the Treasury Department added.
North Korea’s government formed Bluenoroff in 2014 to gain revenue illicitly in response to global actions and by 2018 had tried to steal over $1.1 billion from financial institutions in the form of cyber-related heists, the Treasury Department claimed.
Bluenoroff worked with Lazarus to steal $80 million from the Central Bank of Bangladesh’s New York Federal Reserve account, while Andariel attempted to hack into ATMs to steal bank card information and customer information in order to sell it on the black market, the Treasury Department said.
According to the department, the three hacking groups stole an estimated $571 million in cryptocurrency from five exchanges in Asia between January 2017 and September 2018.
The release comes after North Korea fired two projectiles in the direction of the Sea of Japan, just a day after the country’s government expressed readiness to continue talks with the United States in the second half of the month.
The situation on the Korean Peninsula significantly improved last year after North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s talks with Moon Jae-in and US President Donald Trump.
In June 2018, Kim and Trump reached an agreement designating that North Korea would make efforts towards a complete denuclearisation of the peninsula in exchange for a freeze on US-South Korean military drills and the potential removal of American sanctions.
However, the negotiating process stalled this year, with the tensions escalating over Pyongyang’s continued missile tests.
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