The US Justice Department has charged three North Korean computer programmers with a range of global hacks, including an attack on an American movie studio.
The three have also been charged with an extortion scheme aimed at stealing more than $1.3 billion from banks and other financial institutions, federal prosecutors said on Wednesday.
The indictment builds on an earlier criminal case brought in 2018 and adds two more North Korean defendants.
Prosecutors identified all three as members of a North Korean military intelligence agency and said they carried out hacks at the behest of the government.
Law-enforcement officials say the prosecution shows the North Korean hackers are driven by profit, rather than espionage, asis the case with other states such as Russia, China and Iran.
The US government is still dealing with an intrusion by Russia into federal agencies and private corporations, which officials say was aimed at gathering information.
None of the three defendants is in US custody and, although officials do not expect them to travel to America for prosecution, the Justice Department uses indictments to send a message to hackers that they are not anonymous and can be identified.
Prosecutors also announced a plea deal with a US-Canadian citizen who investigators say organised the sophisticated laundering of millions of dollars in stolen funds.
The new case adds to the list of hacking victims around the world.
The indictment said the hackers, were part of a conspiracy for the attempted theft of more than $1.3bn in money and cryptocurrencies from banks and companies.
It said they were also part of a sweeping ransomware campaign, and hacks on Sony Pictures Entertainment in 2014, because of the release of the movie The Interview, which shows the North Korean government in an unfavourable light.
“North Korea’s operatives, using keyboards rather than guns, stealing digital wallets of cryptocurrency instead of sacks of cash, are the world’s leading bank robbers,” said assistant attorney general John Demers, the Justice Department’s top national security official.
The case was filed in federal court in Los Angeles.