Episode 34. Jean Lee and Geoff White of The Lazarus Heist

“Almost a perfect crime. The hacking ring and an attempt to steal a billion dollars. Investigators blame North Korea. Pyongyang denies involvement. The story begins in Hollywood.”

The Lazarus Heist is a BBC World Service podcast examining cybercrime and how modern nation-states are utilising such tactics. The story starts with the 2014 hack into Sony Pictures’ information systems. The operation led to a shutdown of the company’s computer networks, seizure of its digital files and leak of confidential information into the public domain. The perpetrator? North Korea.

“What’s interesting about the Sony hack is that it did demonstrate this other purpose of a cyber hack, which I believe is to sow discord or chaos,” says Jean Lee, journalist and co-host of The Lazarus Heist.

There are other reasons cyber hacks are utilised by North Korea, according to Jean Lee — “to use it as a form of asymmetric warfare.”

To illustrate the global threat that cybercrime presents, The Lazarus Heist also highlights other significant cyberattacks. These include the 2016 Bangladesh Bank heist and the 2017 Wannacry ransomware attack that affected the UK’s National Health Service (NHS). Other culprits involved in these cyber attacks? Microsoft, the United States National Security Agency (NSA) and Russian intelligence groups.

Jean Lee’s knowledge of Korea, North and South, combined with Geoff White’s knowledge of cybercrime add up to a fascinating story of technology, culture and history in The Lazarus Heist. The story is as important for understanding the effects of cybercrime on individuals and society as it is for understanding modern international relations.

In this episode of MetaPod, we learn about cybercrime methods and why they have become attractive instruments of asymmetric warfare and income generation for North Korea. We also have a very special guest appear late in the interview.

Show notes for The Lazarus Heist:

About Jean Lee

Jean H. Lee is a writer, commentator and expert on North Korea. Jean led the Associated Press news agency’s coverage of the Korean Peninsula as bureau chief from 2008 to 2013. In 2011, she became the first American reporter granted extensive access on the ground in North Korea, and in January 2012, she opened AP’s Pyongyang bureau. Jean now serves as a senior fellow at the Wilson Center think tank in Washington, DC.

About Geoff White

Election hacking, the dark web, multi-billion dollar cyber heists – investigative journalist Geoff White has covered it all. His work’s been featured by BBC News, Channel 4 News, The Sunday Times and more. His book, Crime Dot Com, takes you inside the murky world of the digital underground, uncovering cybercrime’s emergence as today’s global threat.

The twists and turns of his investigations into hacking have informed and entertained audiences from music festivals to political party conferences and his live phone-hacking stage show was a sell-out hit at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.