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US, UK, Japan others accuse North Korea of WannaCry cyberattack

Kaspersky Labs, a Moscow-based maker of anti-virus protection, had then said India was among the third worst hit by ransomware.

world Updated: Dec 19, 2017 23:09 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
WannaCry,ransomware,North Korea hacking
Tom Bossert, homeland security adviser to President Donald Trump, holds a press briefing to publicly blame North Korea for unleashing the so-called WannaCry cyber attack at the White House in Washington on Tuesday.(REUTERS)

The US on Tuesday officially accused North Korea of unleashing ransomware WannaCry that crippled computer systems in hospitals, schools, government offices, businesses and homes around the world past May. India was among the worst hit.

“After careful investigation, the United States is publicly attributing the massive WannaCry cyberattack to North Korea. We do not make this allegation lightly. We do so with evidence, and we do so with partners,” Thomas P Bossert, an adviser to President Donald Trump on homeland security and counterterrorism, told reporters on Tuesday.

“Other governments and private companies agree. The United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and Japan have seen our analysis, and they join us in denouncing North Korea for WannaCry,” he added.

“Commercial partners have also acted. Microsoft traced the attack to cyber affiliates of the North Korean government, and others in the security community have contributed their analysis.”

He did not spell out the consequences, if any, that could follow these findings, but in an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, Bossert issued a thinly veiled threat of consequences. “When we must, the US will act alone to impose costs and consequences for cyber malfeasance,” he wrote.

He went on to list actions the US has taken against countries, entities and individuals it found involved in hacking.

North Korea’s involvement in the attack had been suspected for some weeks now. Microsoft, an older version of whose operating software was the main target of the attack, had said so in October.

WannaCry was a ransomware that hit computer systems in 150 countries, locking data and digital documents and freezing up screens with pop-ups demanding payment of money for unfreezing and resume normal operations.

The British health system was shut down, and entities were impacted in Spain, Russia and Germany.

Kaspersky Labs, a Moscow-based maker of anti-virus protection, had then said India was among the third worst hit by ransomware; one estimate put the damage at 48,000 systems — not computers, but computer systems with each containing many individual units.

The malware attacked computer using an older version of the Windows software. The worm itself was not a North Korean invention, but a cyberweapon developed by America’s National Security Agency that was stolen and released by a group of hackers called Shadow Brokers.

Microsoft’s Brad Smith told a British TV news network back in October, “I think at this point that all observers in the know have concluded that WannaCry was caused by North Korea using cyber tools or weapons that were stolen from the National Security Agency in the United States.”

Trump’s counterterrorism czar Bossert made no mention of American authorship of the malware as he went on to call for a concerted effort all-around. “Whenever possible, we will work with partners, industry and allied governments, who share our market based values,” he wrote in WSJ.

“We will rally our allies, and we will ensure the US is again the leader in securing the internet we invented.”

“We call on the private sector to increase its accountability in the cyber realm by taking actions that deny North Korea and other bad actors the ability to launch reckless and destructive cyberattacks.”

The United States had accused North Korea in 2014 of hacking into the computer systems of Sony Pictures just days before the entertainment company was about to release The Interview, an action-comedy film about an assassination plot against Kim Jong-un.

First Published: Dec 19, 2017 23:09 IST