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New Attacks From North Korea-Linked Lazarus Group Reported

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May 11, 2020 | 

1419 Views | 

Dan Mitchell | 

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Reports have emerged which blame the notorious North Korea-linked ‘Lazarus’ group to a string of recent attacks which have taken place in South Korea. These attacks represent an overall increase, in what sources such as the Daily NK are describing as a ‘ratcheting up’ of the group’s efforts in the midst of the Coronavirus (COVID19) epidemic.

The news was confirmed in a press release by South Korean cyber security specialists ‘EST Security’, which stated that:

“Attacks are actively underway by a group called Lazarus, an ‘APT’ (Intelligent Sustainable Threat) attack group that is believed to be sponsored by a specific [aka North Korea].”

The attacks reportedly took the form of fraudulent documents, disguised as official documents from reputable organisations and included examples disguised as job offers and job descriptions.

When opened, they would begin to infect the hosts device and any accounts it is logged into - and the attacks specifically targeted those who have traded cryptocurrencies, as well as those working in cyptocurrency professionally. 

Lazarus Group: A History of Crime

Whilst Lazarus group is most commonly referred to as a North Korean organisation, many of its members (identified as suspects in legal suits) are actually citizens of POC.

Between 2018 and 2020, the Lazarus group was accountable for a sizable number of crypto exchange hacks including an attack which utilised Telegram as a means of stealing cryptocurrency in what was described as a “sequel” to the (also attributed to Lazarus) ‘Operation AppleJeus’ from 2018. As revealed by Kaspersky.

Furthermore, in September 2019: the U.S. Department of the Treasury identified Lazarus Group (alongside Bluenorff and Andariel) as being collectively responsible for the theft of $571 million worth of cryptocurrencies from five exchanges in the Asia region between 2017 and 2018 (inclusive). Subsequently added to a list of companies sanctioned by the USA.

Later sanctions, in March 2020 included two Chinese nationals, who reside in China / POC, and were added to the OFAC Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) list. The two together were liable for 20 ‘XBT’ addresses identified as being linked to / responsible for recent attacks.

  • #1: LI, Jiadong (Chinese Simplified: 李家东) (a.k.a. "blackjack1987"; a.k.a. "khaleesi").
  • #2: TIAN, Yinyin (Chinese Simplified: 田寅寅) (a.k.a. "snowsjohn"; a.k.a. "tianyinyin0404").

Lazarus group is also responsible for two significant non-cryptocurrency related attacks, namely the Sony Pictures hack of 2014 which was related to the then-forthcoming release of film ‘The Interview’, a comedy film lampooning the still-incumbent North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.

The hack resulted in the (semi-unsuccessful) ransoming of sensitive personal information pertaining to employees of Sony Pictures in return for the company withdrawing the movie from release.

Another attack of note which has been attributed to the Lazarus group is the ‘Bangladesh Bank Cyber Heist’ or ‘Bangladesh Bank Robbery’ of 2016, which involved the theft of $81 dollars worth of funds within just a handful of hours. This is arguably a small change however, compared to what was reported as a target of $1 billion.

Hackers used the SWIFT details of several employees of the Bangladesh Central Bank to issue fraudulent requests to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York which reportedly asked the bank to transfer millions of dollars worth of funds to bank accounts distributed across Asia.

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