ReutersDec 19, 2017 22:31:40 IST
Facebook Inc and Microsoft Corp acted last week to disable a number of potential North Korean cyberthreats, a senior White House official said, as the United States publicly blamed Pyongyang for a May cyberattack that crippled hospitals, banks and other companies.
“Facebook took down accounts and stopped the operational execution of ongoing cyberattacks and Microsoft acted to patch existing attacks, not just the WannaCry attack initially,” White House homeland security adviser Tom Bossert said on 19 December.
Bossert did not provide details on the actions but said the US government was calling on other companies to cooperate in cybersecurity defense.
Bossert said at a White House news conference that Pyongyang was responsible for the WannaCry cyber weapon launched in May. The attack was “meant to cause havoc and destruction,” Bossert said, while conceding there was little the United States could do to exert further pressure on Pyongyang.
“We don’t have a lot of room left here to apply pressure to change their behavior,” Bossert said. “It’s nevertheless important to call them out, to let them know that it’s them and we know it’s them.”
Bossert said the US government had clear evidence that North Korea was responsible for the attack, though he did not give details.
A senior administration official told Reuters that US intelligence agencies had a “very high level of confidence” that a hacking entity known as Lazarus Group, which works on behalf of the North Korean government, carried out the WannaCry attack. Classified sources and methods were used to make that determination, the official said.
Lazarus is widely believed by security researchers and US officials to have been responsible for the 2014 hack of Sony Pictures Entertainment that destroyed files, leaked corporate communications online and led to the departure of several top executives.
A Facebook spokesman said on 19 December the company last week deleted accounts associated with Lazarus “to make it harder for them to conduct their activities.”
Facebook said it also notified individuals in contact with these accounts and suggested enhanced account security.
Microsoft did not immediately comment on Bossert’s assertions.
North Korean government representatives could not be reached immediately for comment. Pyongyang has repeatedly denied responsibility for WannaCry and called other allegations that it launched cyberattacks a smear campaign.
Aside from a public condemnation, the United States did not issue any indictments or name individuals believed to be involved in the attacks.
The accusations came as worries mount about North Korea’s hacking capabilities and its nuclear weapons program.