The cyber attacks targeting banks' Swift payment systems have been linked with North Korea, the same country that is also allegedly linked with a currency counterfeiting ring and mass production and distribution of methamphetamine.
The claims have been made by security software firm Symantec. They follow suggestions by the security arm of BAE Systems that code in the malware used in the attack on Bangladesh's central bank, which it is investigating, is similar to the malware deployed in the attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment at the end of 2014.
However, Symantec is the first security company to claim a clear link between the bank cyber attacks and North Korea.
"Symantec has identified three pieces of malware which were being used in limited targeted attacks against the financial industry in South East Asia: Backdoor.Fimlis, Backdoor.Fimlis.B and Backdoor.Contopee," the company said.
"At first, it was unclear what the motivation behind these attacks was. However, code sharing between Trojan.Banswift (used in the Bangladesh attack to manipulate Swift transactions) and early variants of Backdoor.Contopee provided a connection.
"Backdoor.Contopee has been previously used by attackers associated with a broad threat group known as Lazarus. Lazarus has been linked to a string of aggressive attacks since 2009, largely focused on targets in the US and South Korea.
"The group was linked to Backdoor.Destover, a highly destructive trojan that was the subject of an FBI warning after it was used in an attack against Sony Pictures Entertainment. The FBI concluded that the North Korean government was responsible for this attack.
"The group was the target of a cross-industry initiative known as Operation Blockbuster earlier this year, which involved major security vendors sharing intelligence and resources to assist commercial and government organisations in protecting against Lazarus.
"As part of the initiative, vendors are circulating malware signatures and other useful intelligence related to these attackers."
As many as four banks are believed to have been targeted by the group: Bangladesh Bank, which lost $81m; Vietnam's Tien Phong Bank; Ecuador's Banco del Austro, which lost $12m; and, most recently, a bank in the Philippines, according to Symantec.
However, little is known about the attack on Banco del Austro. It has, instead, sued the beneficiary banks in Hong Kong in a bid to recover at least $9m of the lost funds.
North Korea, meanwhile, has been identified as the alleged source of a high-quality currency counterfeiting ring dealing in dollars and Chinese renminbi.
At the same time, a flood of methamphetamine was fairly unambiguously traced to a factory in North Korea. The activities were coordinated by an agency known as 'Office 39', which has been running since the 1970s. Diplomatic channels were used to distribute the counterfeit bills and illegal narcotics.
The country has also been implicated in counterfeit goods, people trafficking, insurance fraud and black market weapons sales. Funds from Office 39 are used to buy support and influence in the country, and to help fund weapons research.
However, a US law enforcement investigation into this group was suddenly shut down by President Bush.
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