16 June 2017

Pyongyang: WannaCry’s probable but pitiful perpetrator

By Lucien Crowder

On Wednesday The Washington Post, surprising no one, reported that the National Security Agency had linked May’s WannaCry computer hack to North Korea. WannaCry, a ransomware attack combined with a computer worm, affected hundreds of thousands of people in about 150 countries. Sounds bad. But what really emerges from the Post piece is how incompetent the North Koreans hackers really were.

To begin with, North Korea didn’t develop WannaCry on its own—rather, it apparently obtained the worm from a gang of hackers called the Shadow Brokers. Next (though the Post piece doesn’t highlight this fact), victims of the hack were asked to pay only $300 to regain access to their computer files—a sum that calls to mind Mike Myers as Dr. Evil demanding $1 million not to detonate a nuclear warhead. Next, the hackers committed an error that made it simple to track bitcoin payments associated with the attack, and the Post article suggests that North Korea has received no money from the attack. Finally, the ransomware may have “accidentally [gotten] loose in a testing phase,” leaving the North Koreans unable to tell who had paid the ransom and who hadn’t. However—according to Michael Sulmeyer, director of the cybersecurity project at Harvard’s Belfer Center, “[Y]ou don’t have to be the best in the business to cause a lot of disruption.”

Unfortunately, that goes for nuclear weapons, too.

Publication Name: 
The Washington Post