In November 2014, a glowing red skeleton appeared on the computer screens of executives at Sony Pictures Entertainment. ‘Hacked,’ began the accompanying message. It went on to explain that Sony data had been stolen and would be released to the world. ‘This is only the beginning,’ it warned. Gossipy emails about Angelina Jolie, licensing problems around the character of Spider-Man, and the script of the next James Bond film were all leaked online and lapped up by showbusiness reporters.
Then things became much more serious. The hackers threatened a terror attack against the premiere of Seth Rogen’s film The Interview, which mocked North Korea and its leader. The studio capitulated, the premiere was cancelled and the film was never given a major cinematic release.
Two and a half years later, computers in hospitals all around Britain displayed a ransom demand: pay us $300 (£220) in Bitcoin or your files will be lost. The WannaCry worm, as it became known, spread automatically to other computers on a network, crippling large sections of the NHS. More than 19,000 medical appointments were cancelled and the attack cost the health service millions. Worldwide, WannaCry hijacked 300,000 computers in just four days.
In February this year it was revealed that these two events were linked. The US Department of Justice unsealed an indictment against three members of North Korean military intelligence, Jon Chang Hyok, Kim Il and Park Jin Hyok, accusing them of being members of the country’s state-sponsored hacking team, the Lazarus Group.
The indictment is stunning. It details a long list of crimes in addition to the Sony hack and WannaCry. The Lazarus Group was mostly focused on money, stealing millions in cryptocurrency such as Bitcoin from individuals and institutions. It blackmailed millions more out of companies by threatening to release confidential information.