Lazarus: $10 million reward promised

The US State Department is offering millions of US dollars for information on the “Lazarus” hacker collective. When will the group be exposed?

The US State Department promised five million US dollars for information on the North Korean Lazarus network. Now the authority has doubled the reward, ten million US dollars are in the jackpot.

North Korea is a particularly big thorn in the side of the ministry: The United States accuses the country of financing a nuclear weapons program with criminal methods. Hacking is also a means for the regime in Pyeongyang to generate revenue. Because they “keep getting up when you think you’ve done them” , IT security experts baptized a network of North Korean hacking crews with the biblical name “Lazarus”.

The collective is also known under the name “Hidden Cobra”. These are said to include groups specializing in cyberjacking, ransomware and bank hacks. The network gained notoriety through the WannaCry wave 2017. The list of hacks attributed to Lazarus is long. But not all of the hacks that investigators have linked Lazarus to had financial intentions. This includes, for example, the Sony hack 2014. You have to be careful with assigning blame: After all, hackers can also lay false leads to confuse investigators.

Lazarus and the regulation of Crypto

According to the investigators, cryptocurrencies are the focus of Lazarus: the network demands ransoms for encrypted data in crypto, and some wallets have already fallen victim to the network. Cryptocurrencies offer the same opportunities for money laundering and fraud as currencies issued by central banks. For this reason, more and more countries are regulating their possible uses and forcing providers to de-anonymize them, as is currently the case in the EU.

Calls for regulation are also getting louder in the USA. Governments want to put an end to terrorist cells, child porn rings and North Korean hacker brigades such as the Lazarus Group. The success should remain manageable. After all, money is never the goal, but only a means to an end – regardless of whether it is used to pay for weapons-grade plutonium or a loaf of bread. By monitoring the flow of money, criminal networks resort to bartering and services. If they have ever engaged in monetary markets at all. After all, money as we use it today is a relatively new invention and completely redundant to much of how we operate on a daily basis.

Having rewards for traitors Tradition

In order to put a stop to suspected terrorists and hackers, the US State Department has introduced the “Rewards for Justice” program. The program is intended to encourage insiders to unpack details in order to put a stop to radical left-wing and Islamist terrorist groups in particular. According to its website, since 1984 over 250 million US dollars in over 125 Paid to people worldwide. Rewards of five to ten million US dollars, as with Lazarus, are therefore nothing unusual; the authority has also offered such sums to other hacking crews.

But the reward is not guaranteed: First, it is subject to the condition that the authorities achieve a “positive result”. What that consists of is left open on the website. Secondly, the authorities do not pay out the money automatically, but rather suggest whistleblowers to a committee for a possible payout. Whether money actually flows and in what amount is therefore a political decision.

Under these circumstances, whistleblowers should think twice about taking on the long arm of the North Korean secret service, which has also made a name for itself with murders and kidnappings. But: The pressure on Lazarus increases. It remains to be seen whether any little bird will sing as a result.

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