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Researchers see possible North Korea link to global cyber attack

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Cyber security researchers have found technical clues they said could link North Korea with the global WannaCry “ransomware” cyber attack that has infected more than 300,000 machines in 150 countries since Friday.

Symantec and Kaspersky Lab said on Monday some code in an earlier version of the WannaCry software had also appeared in programs used by the Lazarus Group, which researchers from many companies have identified as a North Korea-run hacking operation.

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“This is the best clue we have seen to date as to the origins of WannaCry,” Kaspersky Lab researcher Kurt Baumgartner told Reuters.

Both firms said it was too early to tell whether North Korea was involved in the attacks, which slowed to a crawl on Monday but have already become one of the fastest-spreading extortion campaigns on record.

The cyber companies’ research will be closely followed by law enforcement agencies around the world, including Washington, where U.S. President Donald Trump’s homeland security adviser said on Monday that both foreign nations and cyber criminals were possible culprits.

The two companies said they needed to study the code more and asked for others to help with the analysis. Hackers do reuse code from other operations, so even copied lines fall well short of proof.

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U.S. and European security officials told Reuters on condition of anonymity that it was still too early to say who might be behind the attacks, but they did not rule out North Korea as a suspect.

The Lazarus hackers, acting for impoverished North Korea, have been more brazen in pursuit of financial gain than others, and have been blamed for the theft of $81 million from a Bangladesh bank. The North Korean mission to the United Nations was not immediately available for comment.

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Regardless of the source of the attack, investors piled into cyber security stocks on Monday, betting that governments and corporations will spend more to upgrade their defenses.

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The perpetrators had raised less than $70,000 from users looking to regain access to their computers, according to Trump homeland security adviser Tom Bossert.

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“We are not aware if payments have led to any data recovery,” Bossert said, adding that no federal government systems had been affected.

Some private sector cyber security experts said they were not sure if the motive of the attack was primarily to make money, noting that most large ransomware and other types of cyber extortion campaigns pull in millions of dollars of revenue.

“I believe that this was spread for the purpose of causing as much damage as possible,” said Matthew Hickey, co-founder of British cyber consulting firm Hacker House.

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The countries most affected by WannaCry to date are Russia, Taiwan, Ukraine and India, according to Czech security firm Avast.

The number of infections has fallen dramatically since Friday’s peak when more than 9,000 computers were being hit per hour. Earlier on Monday, Chinese traffic police and schools reported they had been targeted as the attack rolled into Asia for the new work week, but no there were no major disruptions.

Authorities in Europe and the United States turned their attention to preventing hackers from spreading new versions of the virus.

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Shares in firms that provide cyber security services rose sharply, led by Israel’s Cyren Ltd  and U.S. firm FireEye Inc .

Cisco Systems closed up 2.3 percent, making it the second-biggest gainer in the Dow Jones Industrial Average, as investors focused more on opportunities the attack presented rather than the risk it posed to corporations.

Morgan Stanley, in upgrading the stock, said Cisco should benefit from network spending driven by security needs.

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POLITICAL TOPIC

Beyond the immediate need to shore up computer defenses, the attack has turned cyber security into a political topic in Europe and the United States, including discussion of the role national governments play.

In a blog post on Sunday, Microsoft Corp President Brad Smith confirmed what researchers already widely concluded: the attack made use of a hacking tool built by the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) that had leaked online in April.

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He poured fuel on a long-running debate over how government intelligence services should balance their desire to keep software flaws secret – in order to conduct espionage and cyber warfare – against sharing those flaws with technology companies to better secure the internet.

On Monday, Bossert sought to distance the NSA from any blame.

“This was not a tool developed by the NSA to hold ransom data. This was a tool developed by culpable parties, potentially criminals or foreign nation-states, that were put together in such a way as to deliver phishing emails, put it into embedded documents, and cause infection, encryption and locking,” Bossert said.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin, noting the technology’s link to the U.S. spy service, said it should be “discussed immediately on a serious political level.”

“Once they’re let out of the lamp, genies of this kind, especially those created by intelligence services, can later do damage to their authors and creators,” he said.

In Britain, where the virus first raised alarm when it caused hospitals to divert patients on Friday, it gained traction as a political issue just weeks before a general election. The opposition Labour Party accused the Conservative government of leaving the National Health Service (NHS) vulnerable.

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RANSOM VIA BITCOIN

Some victims were ignoring official advice and paying the $300 ransom demanded by the cyber criminals to unlock their computers, which was due to double to $600 on Monday for computers hit by Friday’s first wave.

So far only a few victims of the attack appeared to have paid, based on publicly available bitcoin accounts on the web, where victims have been instructed to pay.

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The initial ransom demand was $300 per machine. Three days after becoming infected the demand doubles. Starting on Monday, the first victims began facing demands of $600 to unlock their machines.

This coming Friday, victims face being locked out of their computers permanently if they fail to pay the $600 ransom, said Tom Robinson, co-founder of Elliptic, a London-based private security company that investigates ransomware attacks.

As of 1400 GMT, the total value of funds paid into anonymous bitcoin wallets the hackers are using stood at just $55,169, from 209 payments, according to calculations made by Reuters using publicly available data.

Brian Lord, managing director of cyber and technology at cyber security firm PGI, said victims had told him “the customer service provided by the criminals is second-to-none,” with helpful advice on how to pay: “One customer said they actually forgot they were being robbed.”

Companies and governments spent the weekend upgrading software to limit the spread of the virus. Monday was the first big test for Asia, where offices had already mostly been closed for the weekend before the attack first arrived.

Renault-Nissan said output had returned to normal at nearly all its plants. PSA Group, Fiat Chrysler, Volkswagen , Daimler, Toyota  and Honda  said their plants were unaffected.

British media were hailing as a hero a 22-year-old computer security whiz who appeared to have helped stop the attack from spreading by discovering a “kill switch” – an internet address which halted the virus when activated.

Individual European countries and the United States saw infections at a rate of only 10 percent to 20 percent of the most affected countries, according to the researcher who stumbled on the “kill switch.”

The virus hit computers running older versions of Microsoft Corp software that had not been recently updated. Microsoft released patches last month and on Friday to fix a vulnerability that allowed the worm to spread across networks. The company’s shares were down about 1 percent on Monday, in a slightly higher broad market.

Infected computers appear to be largely out-of-date devices. Some were machines involved in manufacturing or hospital functions, difficult to patch without disrupting operations.

For a graphic on how the cyber attack spread, see: http://tmsnrt.rs/2qIUckv

(Additional reporting by Guy Faulconbridge, Jim Finkle, Cate Cadell, Jemima Kelly, Noel Randewich, Eric Auchard, Joseph Menn, Michelle Nichols and Tim Ahmann; Writing by Peter Graff and Nick Zieminski; Editing by Peter Millership and Bill Rigby)

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Enjoy this piece?

… then let us make a small request. Like you, we here at Raw Story believe in the power of progressive journalism — and we’re investing in investigative reporting as other publications give it the ax. Raw Story readers power David Cay Johnston’s DCReport, which we've expanded to keep watch in Washington. We’ve exposed billionaire tax evasion and uncovered White House efforts to poison our water. We’ve revealed financial scams that prey on veterans, and efforts to harm workers exploited by abusive bosses. We’ve launched a weekly podcast, “We’ve Got Issues,” focused on issues, not tweets. Unlike other news outlets, we’ve decided to make our original content free. But we need your support to do what we do.

Raw Story is independent. You won’t find mainstream media bias here. We’re not part of a conglomerate, or a project of venture capital bros. From unflinching coverage of racism, to revealing efforts to erode our rights, Raw Story will continue to expose hypocrisy and harm. Unhinged from corporate overlords, we fight to ensure no one is forgotten.

We need your support to keep producing quality journalism and deepen our investigative reporting. Every reader contribution, whatever the amount, makes a tremendous difference. Invest with us in the future. Make a one-time contribution to Raw Story Investigates, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you.



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Michael Moore breaks down why Trump is ‘scared’ of The Squad: ‘They’re the force out there!’

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Legendary filmmaker Michael Moore revealed why President Donald Trump is so scared of the women of color in Congress known as The Squad.

The Squad is made up of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI).

"So, Michael, when your political opposition tells you this is the play we’re going to run and the president underscores it, and they’re running this play, is there any — is The Squad blameless for giving the president a steady stream of oxygen and ammunition?" MSNBC's Brian Williams asked.

"I’m so glad he’s that frightened of them, both he and [Benjamin] Netanyahu are scared of them. And the reason they are is — and this is why Trump isn’t as dumb as he comes off," Moore said.

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Trump has spent his vacation golfing, watching cable TV — and panicking about a recession: AP

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While President Donald Trump has been able to golf frequently while on vacation in New Jersey, he may not return to DC well-rested.

"Trump has spent much of the week at his New Jersey golf club, many of his mornings on the links, his afternoons watching cable television and his evenings calling confidants and business executives to get their take on the market’s volatility," the Associated Press reported Friday.

"Though he has expressed private worries about Wall Street, he is also skeptical about some of the weaker economic indicators, wondering if the media and establishment figures are manipulating the data to make him look bad, according to two Republicans close to the White House, not authorized to discuss private conversations," the AP noted.

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Rick Wilsons destroys Trump for ’punitive ‘dickishness’ and ‘performative assh*lery’ on HBO’s Real Time

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Republican strategist Rick Wilson slammed the Trump administration on HBO's "Real Time" with Bill Maher on Friday.

Wilson is the author of the 2018 book Everything Trump Touches Dies: A Republican Strategist Gets Real About the Worst President Ever.

The GOP consultant said America needs to replace the "Goddamn oil lobbyist who runs the f*cking EPA right now."

"This is just punitive dickishness by these people," Wilson charged. "They're just doing this to be *ssholes, they want their base to be like, 'we're taking those regulations away."

"It is just performative assh*lery," he added.

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