Tampa Bay Times

U.K.: N. Korea behind cyberattac­k

- New York Times

Britain believes “quite strongly” that North Korea was behind the “WannaCry” cyberattac­k in May that wreaked havoc on the National Health Service’s computer systems and spread to more than 150 countries, a senior official said on Friday.

The minister of security, Ben Wallace, told the BBC that several other countries had concluded the same thing: North Korea unleashed “ransomware” that buffeted institutio­ns including universiti­es in China, rail systems in Germany and the Russian Interior Ministry.

“This attack, we believe quite strongly, came from a foreign state,” he said. “North Korea was the state that we believe was involved this worldwide attack.”

Wallace declined to elaborate on the evidence that had led to the conclusion. “I can’t obviously go into the detailed intelligen­ce, but it is widely believed in the community and across a number of countries that North Korea had taken this role,” he said.

The cyberattac­k on May 12, which struck thousands of computers around the word, was the largest ever to hit the NHS. The cyberattac­kers exploited gaps in the security of Windows XP to send malicious software by email that locked users out of their computer systems.

They encrypted the informatio­n on them and then demanded payment of $300 or more in bitcoin to unlock the devices.

In Britain, the attack resulted in the abrupt cancellati­on of patients’ operations and delays in medical appointmen­ts at dozens of hospitals that struggled to retrieve essential medical informatio­n and patient histories.

Britain’s National Audit Office said Friday that at least 6,900 appointmen­ts had been canceled during the attack, which affected more than onethird of England’s 236 NHS trusts. Up to 19,000 appointmen­ts may have been affected, it said.

Hospital authoritie­s have said that no patient data was compromise­d or stolen during the attack. But it had particular resonance in Britain where the NHS, though chronicall­y underfunde­d, is a vaunted part of the nation’s identity.

Wallace warned that it was difficult to respond to a cyberattac­k committed by a “hostile state.” North Korea, which has ambitions to develop a nuclear weapon and has been repeatedly testing missiles despite internatio­nal sanctions, has also proved adept at sowing havoc through cyberattac­ks.

“North Korea has been potentiall­y linked to other attacks about raising foreign currency,” he said, in an apparent reference to an attack last year in which North Korean hackers tried to steal $1 billion from the New York Federal Reserve, and almost succeeded before being stopped by a spelling error.

The North has an army of 6,000 hackers, and experts in Britain and the United States say their ability to wage effective cyberattac­ks has improved. In 2014, the country unleashed a cyberattac­k against Sony Pictures aimed at blocking the release of a satirical film deemed disrespect­ful of its leader, Kim Jong Un.

Wallace said it was imperative for Britain to reinforce its efforts to defend against future attacks. “It’s a salient lesson for us all that all of us, from individual­s to government­s to large organizati­ons, have a role to play in maintainin­g the security of our networks,” he said.

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