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North Korea Allegedly Stole Millions Of Dollar From Online Bank Heist

The Silicon Valley-based company says it is aware of continuing, suspected APT38 operations against other banks.

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A man holds a laptop computer as cyber code is projected on him in this illustration picture. VOA

North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests have stopped, but its hacking operations to gather intelligence and raise funds for the sanction-strapped government in Pyongyang may be gathering steam.

U.S. security firm FireEye raised the alarm Wednesday over a North Korean group that it says has stolen hundreds of millions of dollars by infiltrating the computer systems of banks around the world since 2014 through highly sophisticated and destructive attacks that have spanned at least 11 countries. It says the group is still operating and poses “an active global threat.”

It is part of a wider pattern of malicious state-backed cyber activity that has led the Trump administration to identify North Korea — along with Russia, Iran and China — as one of the main online threats facing the United States. Last month, the Justice Department charged a North Korean hacker said to have conspired in devastating cyberattacks, including an $81 million heist of Bangladesh’s central bank and the WannaCry virus that crippled parts of Britain’s National Health Service.

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US Dollar Image, pixabay

DHS offers warning

On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security warned of the use of malware by Hidden Cobra, the U.S. government’s byword for North Korea hackers, in fraudulent ATM cash withdrawals from banks in Asia and Africa. It said that Hidden Cobra was behind the theft of tens of millions of dollars from teller machines in the past two years. In one incident this year, cash had been simultaneously withdrawn from ATMs in 23 different countries, it said.

North Korea, which prohibits access to the world wide web for virtually all of its people, has previously denied involvement in cyberattacks, and attribution for such attacks is rarely made with absolute certainty. It is typically based on technical indicators such as the Internet Protocol, or IP, addresses that identify computers and characteristics of the coding used in malware, which is the software a hacker may use to damage or disable computers.

But other cybersecurity experts tell The Associated Press that they also see continued signs that North Korea’s authoritarian government, which has a long track record of criminality to raise cash, is conducting malign activity online. That activity includes targeting of financial institutions and crypto-currency-related organizations, as well as spying on its adversaries, despite the easing of tensions between Pyongyang and Washington.

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People watch a news broadcast announcing the Singapore summit meeting between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump, on a giant television screen outside the central railway station in Pyongyang,VOA

“The reality is they are starved for cash and are continuing to try and generate revenue, at least until sanctions are diminished,” said Adam Meyers, vice president of intelligence at CrowdStrike. “At the same time, they won’t abate in intelligence collection operations, as they continue to negotiate and test the international community’s resolve and test what the boundaries are.”

North Korea attacks continue

CrowdStrike says it has detected continuing North Korean cyber intrusions in the past two months, including the use of a known malware against a potentially broad set of targets in South Korea, and a new variant of malware against users of mobile devices that use a Linux-based operating system.

This activity has been taking place against the backdrop of a dramatic diplomatic shift as Kim Jong Un has opened up to the world. He has held summits with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and with President Donald Trump, who hopes to persuade Kim to relinquish the nuclear weapons that pose a potential threat to the U.S. homeland. Tensions on the divided Korean Peninsula have dropped and fears of war with the U.S. have ebbed. Trump this weekend will dispatch his top diplomat, Mike Pompeo, to Pyongyang for the fourth time this year to make progress on denuclearization.

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Ji Seong-ho, North Korean refugee and president of Now Action and Unity for Human Rights. VOA

But North Korea has yet to take concrete steps to give up its nuclear arsenal, so there’s been no let-up in sanctions that have been imposed to deprive it of fuel and revenue for its weapons programs, and to block it from bulk cash transfers and accessing to the international banking system.

FireEye says APT38, the name it gives to the hacking group dedicated to bank theft, has emerged and stepped up its operations since February 2014 as the economic vise on North Korea has tightened in response to its nuclear and missile tests. Initial operations targeted financial institutions in Southeast Asia, where North Korea had experience in money laundering, but then expanded into other regions such as Latin America and Africa, and then extended to Europe and North America.

In all, FireEye says APT38 has attempted to steal $1.1 billion, and based on the data it can confirm, has gotten away with hundreds of millions in dollars. It has used malware to insert fraudulent transactions in the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication or SWIFT system that is used to transfer money between banks. Its biggest heist to date was $81 million stolen from the central bank of Bangladesh in February 2016. The funds were wired to bank accounts established with fake identities in the Philippines. After the funds were withdrawn they were suspected to have been laundered in casinos.

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North Korea, which prohibits access to the world wide web for virtually all of its people, has previously denied involvement in cyberattacks

Cyber attacks an alternative

The Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington think tank, said in a report Wednesday that North Korea’s cyber capabilities provide an alternative means for challenging its adversaries. While Kim’s hereditary regime appears to prioritize currency generation, attacks using the SWIFT system raise concerns that North Korean hackers “may become more proficient at manipulating the data and systems that undergird the global financial system,” it says.

Sandra Joyce, FireEye’s head of global intelligence, said that while APT38 is a criminal operation, it leverages the skills and technology of a state-backed espionage campaign, allowing it to infiltrate multiple banks at once and figure how to extract funds. On average, it dwells in a bank’s computer network for 155 days to learn about its systems before it tries to steal anything. And when it finally pounces, it uses aggressive malware to wreak havoc and cover its tracks.

“We see this as a consistent effort, before, during and after any diplomatic efforts by the United States and the international community,” said Joyce, describing North Korea as being “undeterred” and urging the U.S. government to provide more specific threat information to financial institutions about APT38’s modus operandi. APT stands for Advanced Persistent Threat.

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A security specialist works at a computer station with a cyberthreat map displayed on a wall in front of him in the Cyber Security Operations Center at AEP headquarters in Columbus, Ohio, May 20, 2015. VOA

Large Chile bank hacked

The Silicon Valley-based company says it is aware of continuing, suspected APT38 operations against other banks. The most recent attack it is publicly attributing to APT38 was against of Chile’s biggest commercial banks, Banco de Chile, in May this year. The bank has said a hacking operation robbed it of $10 million.

Also Read: The European Union Warns Facebook Over Consumer’s Data Usage

FireEye, which is staffed with a roster of former military and law-enforcement cyberexperts, conducted malware analysis for a criminal indictment by the Justice Department last month against Park Jin Hyok, the first time a hacker said to be from North Korea has faced U.S. criminal charges. He’s accused of conspiring in a number of devastating cyberattacks: the Bangladesh heist and other attempts to steal more than $1 billion from financial institutions around the world; the 2014 breach of Sony Pictures Entertainment; and the WannaCry ransomware virus that in 2017 infected computers in 150 countries. (VOA)

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World is Decades Behind Schedule to Achieve Ambitious Goals to Fight Poverty, Inequality and Other Ills

The high-level summit in New York next week will be the first to focus on the sustainable development goals since they were adopted

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FILE - The 17 goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development are seen behind then-U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon at the Annual Conference of Swiss Development Cooperation in Zurich, Switzerland, Jan. 22, 2016. VOA

The world is decades behind schedule to achieve ambitious goals to fight poverty, inequality and other ills, development experts warned Wednesday, as global leaders prepared to meet to weigh their progress.

The high-level summit in New York next week will be the first to focus on the sustainable development goals since they were adopted by the United Nations four years ago.

The 17 sustainable development goals, known as SDGs, set out a wide-ranging “to-do” list tackling conflict, hunger, land degradation, gender inequality and climate change by 2030. Assessments of their progress have been bleak.

On Wednesday the Social Progress Imperative, a U.S.-based nonprofit, said the goals were unlikely to be reached until 2073, more than four decades past their target date.

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FILE – Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, attends a news conference in Tokyo, Japan, Nov. 9, 2018. VOA

“Progress isn’t fast enough to achieve the ambition of the SDGs within my lifetime, and that’s a problem,” said Michael Green, chief executive of the Imperative. “There are some countries that are going backwards and letting us down.”

Most countries are lagging particularly in efforts to improve sanitation, nutrition, basic medical care, shelter and water, said the group, which ranks nations on an array of economic and social factors.

“The U.N. General Assembly week in New York is really an opportunity for the world to step back and look at the progress in helping those most in need,” said Bill Gates, cofounder of Microsoft Corp and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Efforts to improve access to basic health care and end inequality are not doing well, he said.

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“If we don’t accelerate progress, the gaps will continue to get larger,” he said. “We are not on track to achieve these goals.”

‘Progress is faltering’

Placing blame on growing inequality and on climate change, Shantanu Mukherjee, policy chief at the U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs, said: “The pace of progress is faltering.”

“Not only are business-as-usual efforts losing steam, … there are trends that threaten to undermine and even reverse the progress already being made on a massive scale,” he said at a recent release of a report on the goals by leading scientists.

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The world is decades behind schedule to achieve ambitious goals to fight poverty, inequality and other ills, development experts warned Wednesday. Pixabay

Their report said countries must address vast gaps in wealth distribution and improve access to economic opportunities and technological advances that undermine innovation and growth.

Progress has been made on the goal of ending extreme poverty, but in other areas, “progress has been slow or even reversed,” a U.N. assessment said this summer.

“The most vulnerable people and countries continue to suffer the most and the global response has not been ambitious enough,” it said.

Global cost

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Holding a global summit every four years was mandated when the goals were first approved to assess progress, encourage broader implementation and boost public awareness.

The cost of implementing the global goals has been estimated at $3 trillion a year.

The goals will fail without new ways to ease national debts, boost wages and expand trade, top financial organizations including the International Monetary Fund and World Trade Organization said earlier this year.

Money needs to be freed up through international trading and financial systems, they said.

When the goals were first adopted in 2015, then-U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said: “The true test of commitment to Agenda 2030 will be implementation.

“We need action from everyone, everywhere,” he said. (VOA)