The United States accused North Korea on Monday of being behind the WannaCry cyber attack that affected hundreds of thousands of computers in 150 countries this past May.
In a Wall Street Journal op-ed, President Donald Trump’s homeland security and counterterrorism advisor Thomas Bossert said that “after careful investigation” the U.S. “publicly attributes the massive ‘WannaCry’ cyber attack to North Korea.”
The U.S., Bossert said, was making the allegation “based on evidence,” though he did not cite any specific proof for the government’s claim. Instead, he noted that “other governments and private companies” have drawn the same conclusion regarding North Korea’s responsibility.
“The United Kingdom attributes the attack to North Korea, and Microsoft traced the attack to cyber affiliates of the North Korean government,” Bossert wrote, stating that “we do not make this allegation lightly.”
The WannaCry cyberattack was a ransomware attack which locked affected users out of their computers. Typically, the only way to unlock the operating system was to pay the attacker using a cryptocurrency like Bitcoin, though Bossert said paying the ransom did not unlock computers during the WannaCry attack.
The software “spread indiscriminately” and “rendered useless hundreds of thousands of computers in hospitals, schools, businesses and homes,” costing billions of dollars worldwide, he said.
“North Korea has acted especially badly, largely unchecked, for more than a decade, and its malicious behavior is growing more egregious,” he wrote. “WannaCry was indiscriminately reckless.”
On Twitter, a handful of commenters expressed skepticism about the U.S. government’s allegations against North Korea.
Chadi Hantouche, a cybersecurity expert who works for the consulting firm Wavestone, tweeted that “the problem with cyber-attribution is that it’s mainly politics,” questioning why the Trump administration did not cite evidence for its claims.
Hantouche told NK News that identifying who is behind a cyber attack is “probably the most difficult question to answer” because “cyberspace is the perfect space for attackers to hide.”
He gave the example of a past cyber attack that was falsely attributed to the Islamic State because some of the code was written in Arabic and also noted other attacks that he said had been unconvincingly linked to North Korea and Russia.
“All of these examples tend to show that you can interpret the [facts] with a political agenda, and attribution should be considered with a lot of precaution,” he said.
North Korea, for its part, has not yet responded to the U.S. allegations, but in the past, the DPRK has consistently denied involvement in cybercrime through the country’s state media.
“As far as the attribution, Mr. Bossert seems quite sure in the accusation, and we can naturally assume Pyongyang will deny,” said Martyn Williams, the founder of the website North Korea Tech.
“The U.S. government doesn’t often publicly lay blame for cyber attacks on other countries, but then it also appears to be trying to build up its case against North Korea with the public.”
Williams noted that computer security companies have “found North Korean fingerprints on many cyber attacks.”
“At first, many seemed to be designed to cause trouble, confusion, and annoyance but more recently the attacks have been used as a way to generate money for the regime,” he said.
The WannaCry cyber attack hit the UK particularly hard, compromising computers in hospitals and doctor’s offices.
UK Security Minister Ben Wallace blamed the DPRK for the attack in October following an investigation by the UK’s National Audit Office that found WannaCry ransomware led to the cancellation of thousands of appointments across the country.
Both claimed that the WannaCry code is similar to the one used in a USD $81 million heist of a Bangladeshi bank in 2016.
North Korea was also blamed for hacking computers at Sony Pictures before the release of “The Interview,” the studio’s 2014 film about the assassination of Kim Jong Un.
Bossert said in his op-ed that governments and businesses must “cooperate to mitigate cyber risk” and “to increase the security and resilience of the internet” in response to North Korean cyber attacks.
He cited the Trump administration’s decision to bring charges against hackers from countries like Iran, Russia, Canada, and China and predicted that the government would issue more indictments in the future.
At the end of his op-ed, Bossert said the Trump administration would continue to use “maximum pressure” as its strategy against North Korea’s nuclear and missile development programs and against its ability to perpetrate cyber attacks.
Edited by Chad O’Carroll
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Featured Image: Data Security by Visual Content on 2016-09-29 12:49:40