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European Union hits Chinese, Russian hackers with first-ever cyberattack sanctions

Preventing cyber attacks
Larry Zelvin, Head of Financial Crimes at the Bank of Montreal (BMO) shares his tips for staying safe and protecting yourself from cyber attacks.

The European Union on Thursday rolled out unprecedented new travel and financial sanctions on six people and three entities related to major cyberattacks including 2017’s WannaCry ransomware attack.

Two Chinese nationals and four Russian military intelligence officers were named in the sanctions list along with tech firms from China and North Korea, and the department for special technologies of the Russian military intelligence service, known as Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation.

The sanctions are the first ever imposed over cybercrime by the European economic bloc.

READ MORE: Russian hackers target Canada, U.S., and U.K.’s COVID-19 vaccine research: intelligence agency

The bloc accused the Russian service of having carried out two cyberattacks in June 2017, which hit several companies in Europe resulting in large financial losses. The service is also accused of two cyberattacks against Ukraine’s power grid in 2015 and 2016.

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Four individuals working for the Russian military intelligence service were also sanctioned for allegedly participating in an attempted cyberattack against the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in the Netherlands in April 2018.

READ MORE: Vatican, Hong Kong Catholic diocese hit in suspected Chinese hack

North Korean company Chosun Expo was also sanctioned on suspicion of having supported the Lazarus Group, which is deemed responsible for a series of major attacks worldwide, including an $81 million heist against Bangladesh Bank’s account at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in 2016, the world’s biggest cyber fraud.

The company is also allegedly linked to an attack against Hollywood film studio Sony Pictures to prevent the release of a satirical movie about North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in 2014.

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The U.S. Treasury last year imposed sanctions on the Lazarus Group and two other North Korean hacking groups for their alleged participation in the attacks on Sony Pictures and the central bank of Bangladesh, among others. It said North Korea’s main intelligence service was behind the hacking groups.

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North Korea has denied any involvement in cyberattacks.

The EU sanctions also hit Chinese firm Haitai Technology Development, which is accused of having supported cyberattacks — known as Operation Cloud Hopper — aimed at stealing commercially sensitive data from multinationals across the world.

READ MORE: How the WannaCry ransomware attack spread around the world

Two Chinese individuals allegedly involved in the attacks were also sanctioned.

The sanctions include travel bans and asset freezes. They also prohibit European Union individuals, companies and other entities from making funds available to those blacklisted.

China’s diplomatic mission to the European Union said in a statement early on Friday that China “is a staunch defender of network security and one of the biggest victims of hacker attacks.”

China wants global cyberspace security to be maintained through “dialogue and cooperation” and not by unilateral sanctions, the statement added.