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US sanctions three North Korea-linked hacking groups blamed for cyber attacks

The administration of US President Donald Trump has imposed sanctions on three hacking groups allegedly sponsored by the North Korean government.

The US Treasury Department announced the sanctions on Friday, claiming that the three groups — commonly known as Lazarus Group, Bluenoroff, and Andariel — were involved in the theft of millions of dollars from financial institutions and cryptocurrency exchanges, as well as the 2018 WannaCry hack that crippled Britain’s National Health Service.

In a press release, the Treasury said, “North Korean state-sponsored malicious cyber groups [were] responsible for North Korea’s malicious cyber activity on critical infrastructure,” adding that they are “controlled entities of the Government of North Korea.”

“Treasury is taking action against North Korean hacking groups that have been perpetrating cyber attacks to support illicit weapon and missile programs,” Sigal Mandelker, Treasury under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said in the release.

“We will continue to enforce existing US and UN sanctions against North Korea and work with the international community to improve cybersecurity of financial networks,” Mandelker added.

The sanctions are meant to target individuals and companies working with the three groups and empower the US government to freeze any of their assets held under US jurisdiction.

The release comes after North Korea fired two projectiles in the direction of the Sea of Japan, just a day after Pyongyang expressed readiness to resume negotiations with the United States in the second half of the month.

Talks between the two sides have stalled since the second summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Vietnam broke up without an agreement or even a joint statement.

Trump walked away from the summit, claiming that Kim had insisted on the removal of all sanctions on North Korea. Pyongyang, however, rejected that account, stressing that it had only asked for a partial lifting of the bans.

Following the failure of the summit, the North repeatedly warned that it was considering ending talks on denuclearization and resuming its nuclear and missile tests over what it described as “the gangster-like stand” of the US.

In their third, brief meeting at the Korean border at the end of June, Kim and Trump agreed to kick-start working-level talks.

Washington has so far refused to offer any sanctions relief in return for several unilateral steps already taken by North Korea. Pyongyang has also demolished at least one nuclear test site and agreed to allow international inspectors into a missile engine test facility.

The US now demands that North Korea abandon its nuclear weapons entirely before the sanctions are lifted. Pyongyang insists on a step-by-step approach that would include verifiable American commitment to end its massive military presence near the North Korean territorial waters.