Experts see possible North Korea links to global cyberattack

Experts at the global cyber-security firm Symantec found that earlier versions of the ransomware known as WannaCry were found on computers that also bore evidence of the cyber tools used against Sony Pictures Entertainment, as well as banks in Poland and Bangladesh's central bank- attacks that all were linked to North Korea.

Researchers have said that some of the code used in Friday's ransomware, known as WannaCry software, was almost identical to the code used by the Lazarus Group, a group of North Korean hackers who used a similar version for the devastating hack of Sony Pictures Entertainment in 2014 and the last year's hack of Bangladesh Central Bank. It encrypted users' computer files and displayed a message demanding $300 to $600 worth of the digital currency bitcoin to release them; failure to pay would leave the data scrambled and likely beyond fix.

The attack blocks computers and puts up images on victims' screens demanding payment of US$300 (RM1,294.44) in the virtual currency Bitcoin, saying: "Ooops, your files have been encrypted!"

Experts had warned that WannaCry might wreak renewed havoc on Monday, particularly in Asia, which was closed for business on Friday when the malware scrambled data at hospitals, factories, government agencies, banks and other businesses.

The potential link was highlighted on Monday by a researcher from Google who posted a message on Twitter showing a sample of the WannaCry malware that appeared online in February.

"The Lazurus Group" is a hacker collective with ties to North Korea and Symantec discovered portions of its malware codes in "WannaCry", the hacking program used in last weekend's cyber attack.

The evidence is far from a smoking gun, and may prove inconclusive. "We want to see more coding similarities.to give us more confidence". It encrypted users' computer files and displayed a message demanding 300 to 600 U.S. dollars (£230-£390) of the digital currency bitcoin to release them. A group that has taken credit for the leak threatened to release more recent code to enable hackers to break into the world's most widely used computers, software and phones. The channel is typically used to share files within a network or to link to a printer, for example.

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The U.S. has had run-ins with North Korea's hackers before.

Clues point to a link between a hacking group connected to North Korea and the ransomware attacks that have crippled computer systems worldwide, according to two cyber-security firms.

North Korea has denied being behind the Sony and banking attacks.

Last year, Choi accidentally spoke to a hacker traced to a Pyongyang internet address about development of ransomware and he alerted South Korean authorities.

But even if they do, it's still possible a separate hacker may have stolen snippets of code from past malware associated with the shadowy group.

If North Korea, believed to be training cyber warriors at schools, is responsible for the latest attack, Mr Choi said the world should stop underestimating its capabilities and work together to think of a new way to respond to cyber threats, such as having China pull the plug on North Korea's internet.

Malware researcher Paul Burbage of Flashpoint, a business risk intelligence company, tells NPR's Martin Kaste that so far, he hasn't seen a solid connection between the ransomware and North Korea. "To write ransomware, target everyone in the world, and then make a fake attribution to North Korea-that would be a lot of trouble".

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