WannaCry ransomware shares code with North Korea-linked malware – researchers

WannaCry ransomware shares code with North Korea-linked malware – researchers
The source for WannaCry ransomware, which has spread to 150 countries, may be Pyongyang or those trying to frame it, security analysts say, pointing to code similarities between the virus and a malware attributed to alleged hackers from North Korea.

READ MORE: WannaCry hackers have not withdrawn any ransom bitcoin, surveillance shows

The speculation over a North Korean connection arose Monday, after the well-known Google security researcher Neel Mehta revealed a resemblance between the code used in what is said to be an early version of WannaCry ransomware and that in a hacker tool attributed to the notorious Lazarus Group in a Twitter post.

9c7c7149387a1c79679a87dd1ba755bc @ 0x402560, 0x40F598
ac21c8ad899727137c4b94458d7aa8d8 @ 0x10004ba0, 0x10012AA4

Containing what might look like a random set of figures and letters to an outsider accompanied by the hashtag #WannaCryptAttribution, the post has immediately drawn attention of cybersecurity experts and has been since extensively shared. Shedding light on the otherwise cryptic message, Kaspersky Lab explained in a blog post that Mehta drew parallels between “a WannaCry cryptor sample from February 2017” and “a Lazarus APT [Advanced Persistent Threat] group sample from February 2015.”

Labelling Mehta’s revelation “the most significant clue to date regarding the origins of WannaCry,” Kaspersky researches at the same time acknowledged that the apparent use by the WannaCry attackers of the similar code is not enough to come to definitive conclusions about its origin, as there is a possibility of it being a false flag operation and more international effort is necessary to unearth its roots.

“It’s important that other researchers around the world investigate these similarities,” the post reads.

At the same time, they said there is little doubt that February 2017 code, referenced by Mehta, “was compiled by the same people, or by people with access to the same source code” as the current spree of attacks.

Another renowned researcher, Matthieu Suiche from Comae Technologies, also said on Twitter that the discovered code similarities might have put security experts on the trail of the hackers.

“WannaCry and this [program] attributed to Lazarus are sharing code that’s unique. This group might be behind WannaCry also,” Suiche said, as cited by Wired.

However, he agreed with Kaspersky researchers that it would be wrong to rush to pin the blame on North Korea, based on these assumptions.

“Attribution can always be faked, as it’s only a matter of moving bytes around,” Suiche said, as cited by Cyberscoop.

: Malware created by intelligence services can backfire on its creators https://on.rt.com/8bor 

Meanwhile, American security giant Symantec voiced a similar opinion in a statement Monday. Saying that it had discovered a code used in the malware that “historically was unique to Lazarus tools,” the company refused to speculate on North Korea’s role in the attack.

“We have not yet been able to confirm the Lazarus tools deployed WannaCry on these systems,” it stressed.

The Lazarus Group is believed to be behind numerous high-profile hacking attacks on banks’ SWIFT servers, including an attempt to steal $851 million from Bangladesh Central Bank last February and is deemed to be responsible for the November 2014 Sony Pictures hack.

READ MORE: Like letting Tomahawk missiles get stolen’: Microsoft slams NSA mishandling of exploits

While no compelling proof that would implicate North Korea or other state actor in the array of cyber heists has been revealed, some of the evidence uncovered by Russian multinational cybersecurity and anti-virus provider, Kaspersky Lab, last month, appears to support the speculation.

In an April 3 blog post, Kaspersky Lab’s Global Research & Analysis Team said that it had traced some of the IPs used by the Lazarus attackers back to North Korea, thus for the first time establishing “a direct link” between the suspected cyber criminals involved in the Lazarus operations and the rogue state. However, Kaspersky experts then fell short of naming North Korea a culprit, citing lack of evidence.

“Now, is it North Korea behind all the Bluenoroff attacks after all? As researchers, we prefer to provide facts rather than speculations,” they wrote.

The ransomware began its global spread on Friday. Dubbed WannaCry, it exploits vulnerability in the Windows operating system that was first discovered by the National Security Agency (NSA) and was later leaked to public by the hacker group the Shadow Brokers last month, prompting Windows to close the loophole and issued an update. Once the malware infects the system, it sends the user a text file with a ransom demand for some $300 worth of Bitcoins. It also installs a countdown timer on the victim’s wallpaper, demanding to pay the ransom if one does not want private files deleted.

Among the notable victims affected by the virus were the National Health Service (NHS) hospitals in the UK, Russia’s Interior Ministry, Spain’s telecommunications company Telefonica and reportedly some Chinese government agencies.

Speaking in Beijing on Sunday, Russian President Vladimir Putin called on the international community to offer a coordinated response to the cybersecurity threats at “the highest political level” and lamented the US’s refusal to discuss the issue with Russia. The Russian leader also cited another theory on the origin of the malware, stating that “Microsoft’s management has made it clear that the virus originated from US intelligence services.”

Meanwhile, cyber security firm Check Point Software Technologies Ltd said that it had discovered and neutralized the updated version of the WannaCry on Monday by successfully initiating what it called a “kill switch” inside the software.

The spread of WannaCry ransomware seems to be well past its peak, the 22-year-old security expert Marcus Hutchins who is in the forefront of the battle against the virus told AP. The attack is “done and dusted” thanks to the accumulated effort of hundreds of specialists over the weekend, he said.

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Germany will look for alternatives to Turkey’s Incirlik Airbase – Merkel

Germany will look for alternatives to Turkey's Incirlik Airbase - Merkel
Germany will consider relocation of its troops from Turkey’s airbase Incirlik following a recent refusal by Ankara to allow German MPs to visit soldiers stationed there, says Chancellor Angela Merkel.

“We will continue to talk with Turkey, but in parallel we will have to explore other ways of fulfilling our mandate,” Merkel said. “That means looking at alternatives to Incirlik, and one alternative among others is Jordan.”

Wolfgang Hellmich, chairman of the Parliamentary Defense Committee said that Germany “won’t be blackmailed” by Turkey, which this week denied access for a group of German MPs to visit some 260 soldiers stationed at Incirlik, as cited by Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

“Therefore it is absolutely right to initiate withdrawal of troops and the relocation to the best possible base [outside Turkey],” Hellmich added. “This must happen now.”

“The concrete preparations … will now be tackled,” he said according to Die Welt.

Earlier, Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Schaefer said Ankara’s decision to ban the visit has been “absolutely inacceptable” and the one that will surely draw consequences.

“In this case, we must think of how it goes further on,” he said.

Germany deployed several Tornado surveillance jets and a refueling plane at the base as part of the US-led campaign against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) in Iraq and Syria.

The recent move to block the MPs’ visit came shortly after Berlin’s decision to grant asylum for a number of Turkish Army officers who fled the country after a failed coup attempt last July, which strained relations even further.

Last year, Turkey refused to allow access to the airbase to a German parliamentary delegation. The reason for that was reportedly linked to Germany’s recognition of the 1915 massacre of Armenians by the Ottoman forces.

READ MORE: Germany grants asylum to ‘several’ NATO troops wanted by Ankara over failed coup attempt – reports

Earlier, German media reported that the government considered eight potential locations for the relocation, including bases in neighboring Jordan, Kuwait and Cyprus, with Jordan being the best possible option.

On Monday, a spokesman for the Defense Ministry, Jens Flonsdorf, said the possible withdrawal would affect German anti-IS operations, but refueling planes would still enable combat sorties to be flown from Jordanian bases. The relocation itself may take several months, Flonsdorf said.

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