Investigators Monitoring North Korea Sanctions Hit — UN Cyberattack

There are widespread rumors suggesting that North Korea maintains a unit of highly trained hackers capable of launching sophisticated attacks on Pyongyang's adversaries.

But at this early stage, the conclusions by two firms - Symantec and FireEye - raise more questions than they answer.

The links between the WannaCry ransomware and the Lazarus group, which is believed to be responsible for several high-profile attacks, are deeper and more substantial than previously thought, according to new evidence unearthed by security researchers.

South Korean formed a policy consultative body to actively deal with the global WannaCry ransomware attacks that have affected the country along with the rest of the world, the government said Tuesday.

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So far, 300 victims are believed to have paid to have their files unlocked, generating a total ransom payment of $109,245.

That program was among a batch leaked or stolen and then dumped online by a group calling itself The Shadow Brokers, who some in US intelligence believe to be affiliated with Russian Federation. These earlier versions of WannaCry used stolen credentials to spread across infected networks, rather than leveraging the leaked EternalBlue exploit that caused WannaCry to spread quickly across the globe starting on May 12.

Are North Korean hackers behind WannaCry ransomware attack?

Thakur said, Lazarus Group members could have been moonlighting to make extra money, or they could have left government service, or they could have been contractors without direct obligations to serve only the state. Researchers say Lazarus Group carries out hacks on behalf of North Korea. It is also possible that the writer in question was a contractor in another country, he said. There are, however, other reasons the same code might appear in more than one program - including hackers taking a shortcut in designing their own wares.

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Symantec Technical Director Vikram Thakur told CyberScoop that the hackers behind WannaCry seemed to be unaware of the scale and ultimate impact that the latest version of their ransomware would have. "Given the potential impact to customers and their businesses, we made the decision to make the Security Update for platforms [currently] in custom support", a Microsoft manager said at the time.

Attribution in cyberspace is a notoriously hard thing to nail down.

In laboratory testing, researchers at MWR and Kyptos say they have found Windows XP crashes before the virus can spread. The first release of the bug was riddled with problems and included a so-called kill switch. That's when a young British security researcher who goes by the name MalwareTech noticed that the ransomware was querying an unregistered domain name, which he quickly registered.

Other researchers have speculated that the buggy code indicates that it escaped from a development system before its authors intended.

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Details regarding the extent of the breach or who might have been behind the cyberattack are not immediately clear, but suspicion is likely to fall on North Korea.

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