‘Brilliant’ hacker gets five years behind bars for helping North Korea evade sanctions with crypto | #government | #hacking | #cyberattack

A ‘brilliant’ CalTech graduate-turned-hacker and cryptocurrency guru has been sentenced to five years in federal prison for helping North Korea evade US sanctions.

Virgil Griffith, 39, taught more than 100 people how to use blockchain technology to get around international restrictions at a crypto conference in Pyongyang three years ago. 

Many of the businesses and people he trained are thought to have worked for the North Korean government. Griffith, from Birmingham, Alabama, advised them how to gain independence from the international banking system. 

The CalTech graduate, who is the mastermind behind the Wikipedia tool WikiScanner, was sentenced to 63 months in prison and a $100,000 fine on Tuesday in Manhattan. 

He was described by his lawyer as a brilliant scientist who had peace as his only interest. Further details on how his antics were designed to encourage peace have yet to be shared. 

The whiz hacker and crypto expert explained to North Koreans how to use blockchain to evade sanctions

Griffiths (left and right in selfies posted to Facebook) went to North Korea despite a U.S. refusal

His sentencing on Tuesday comes after Griffith pleaded guilty last year to conspiring to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act. 

The law prohibits U.S. citizens from exporting goods, services or technology to sanctioned countries, including North Korea. 

America and the United Nations have issued sanctions against Kim Jong-un’s government to deter its nuclear missile programs, first launched in 2018.  

Griffith said he regretted his participation in the 2019 conference and in light of the sanctions issued to Russia after the Kremlin invaded Ukraine, he ‘was cured’ from his North Korea obsession. 

‘Watching [Ukraine/Russia] sanctions has shown me their value. I have been cured of my stubborn arrogance, and my obsession with North Korea. My career has been damaged. I’m sorry,’ he said Tuesday. 

Virgil Griffith giving a presentation in North Korea in 2019 according to the Justice Department who included it in a sentencing memorandum with elements redacted

Virgil Griffith giving a presentation in North Korea in 2019 according to the Justice Department who included it in a sentencing memorandum with elements redacted

Griffith traveled to North Korea to take part in the conference in 2019, even after US officials denied his request to travel there.

Prosecutors argued that Griffith chose to ignore North Korea’s history of violence and threats made against the United States. 

‘He did so knowing that power – North Korea – was guilty of atrocities against its own people and has made threats against the United States citing its nuclear capabilities,’ they wrote.  

In 2002, The well-known hacker established WikiScanner, an operational tool that linked anonymous edits on Wikipedia to the organizations where they originated. 

The database operated until 2007, when Griffith said it was costing him ‘several thousand dollars’ every month. 

Griffith developed ‘cryptocurrency infrastructure and equipment inside North Korea,’ prosecutors wrote in court papers. 

At the 2019 conference, he advised the group on how to use cryptocurrency to evade sanctions and achieve independence from the global banking system. 

The U.S. and the U.N. Security Council have imposed increasingly tight sanctions on North Korea in recent years to try to rein in its nuclear and ballistic missile programs. 

US District Judge P. Kevin Castel condemned Griffith’s actions and said he was not being jailed for promoting cryptocurrency. 

‘Some say Mr. Griffith is being persecuted for promoting crypto. But that’s not what this case is about. He pled guilty the day before trial. It was an intentional violation of sanctions, which are intended to avoid military conflict,’ Catel said.  

Virgil Griffith's North Korean visa (above) that he posted on Twitter

Virgil Griffith’s North Korean visa (above) that he posted on Twitter 

The 39-year-old, pictured in another Facebook selfie, wished to promote peace, lawyers said

The 39-year-old, pictured in another Facebook selfie, wished to promote peace, lawyers said

The U.S. government amended sanctions against North Korea in 2018 to prohibit ‘a U.S. person, wherever located’ from exporting technology to North Korea.

Prosecutors said Griffith acknowledged his presentation amounted to a transfer of technical knowledge to conference attendees.

‘Griffith is an American citizen who chose to evade the sanctions of his own country to provide services to a hostile foreign power,’ prosecutors wrote.  

Defense attorney Brian Klein described Griffith as a ‘brilliant Caltech-trained scientist who developed a curiosity bordering on obsession’ with North Korea. 

‘He viewed himself – albeit arrogantly and naively – as acting in the interest of peace,’ Klein said.

‘He loves his country and never set out to do any harm.’

Klein added that he was disappointed with the 63-month prison sentence but ‘pleased the judge acknowledged Virgil’s commitment to moving forward with his life productively, and that he is a talented person who has a lot to contribute.’

The maximum sentence for those who knowingly violate U.S. sanctions is 20 years. 

A self-described ‘disruptive technologist,’ Griffith became something of a tech-world enfant terrible in the early 2000s.

In 2007, he created WikiScanner, a tool that aimed to unmask people who anonymously edited entries in Wikipedia, the crowdsourced online encyclopedia.

WikiScanner essentially could determine the business, institutions or government agencies that owned the computers from which some edits were made. 

It quickly identified businesses that had sabotaged competitors´ entries and government agencies that had rewritten history, among other findings.

‘I am quite pleased to see the mainstream media enjoying the public-relations disaster fireworks as I am,’ Griffith told the Associated Press in 2007.

Klein previously said Griffith cooperated with the FBI and ‘helped educate law enforcement’ about the so-called dark web, a network of encrypted internet sites that allow users to remain anonymous.

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