North Korea-linked hackers 'highly likely' behind WannaCry: Symantec

Researchers have found more digital fingerprints tying this month's WannaCry ransomware worm to the same prolific hacking group that attacked Sony Pictures in 2014 and the Bangladesh Central Bank previous year.

Considered alongside earlier research, the latest findings further support the notion that WannaCry was unleashed by North Korean hackers: The FBI officially blamed the North Korea government in 2014 with hacking Sony, while private security researchers have largely linked that attack to the Lazarus Group, a likely state-sponsored organization with previously established ties to Pyongyang.

The WannaCry or WannaCrypt ransomware that infected tens of thousands of PCs worldwide starting May 12, and is still holding several thousand hostage, has been linked by security researchers to Lazarus group, which are said to be working for the North Korean government.

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The code that WannaCry shares is a backdoor trojan known as Contopee.

All these associations have rendered Symantec confident enough to declare that Lazarus might indeed be responsible for the widespread WannaCry attacks.

Then in March researchers discovered WannaCry was using a modified version of the malware Backdoor.Duuzer called Trojan.Bravonc which was also linked to Lazarus.

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Thakur said a less likely scenario is that Lazarus' main aim was to create chaos by distributing WannaCry.

The experts from the United Nations who were investigating the role of North Korea were hacked out by the unknown hackers giving a very detailed view of their work via a mail sent a by the hacking group. Similar attacks were attempted in 2016, and the panel chair advised there is now a "heightened risk" of attack.

In their paper on the matter, the researchers have noted shared code between the ransomware and other code, as well as how a command and control server used as part of the malware attack against Sony was also connected to during the ransomware attack.

The earlier versions and WannaCry largely the same, with some minor changes, chiefly the incorporation of the EternalBlue exploit.

In the Sony hack, United States government and security companies accused North Korea. By custom, Symantec does not attribute cyber campaigns directly to governments, but its researchers did not dispute the common belief that Lazarus works for North Korea.

In a blog, Symantec said "substantial commonalities in the tools, techniques, and infrastructure used by the attackers" led it to conclude that the Lazarus group had instigated the WannaCry attack. The Lazarus Group is believed to be behind the infamous 2014 Sony Pictures data breach and the theft of $81 million from the Bangladesh central bank previous year.

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