The United States is officially blaming North Korea for the WannaCry ransomware attack that crippled computers in 150 countries earlier this year.
But the consequences of that “wanton and reckless” attack will be little more than public shaming, the White House said.
“It’s not about holding a country accountable. It’s about simple culpability,” White House Homeland Security Adviser Tom Bossert said Tuesday. “We’re going to shame them for it. I hope that they decide to stop behaving badly online. I’m not naïve.”
Bossert said President Trump has tried every lever at his disposal “short of starving the North Korean people to death.” And he also stopped short of saying that Trump considered the attack to be aimed at he United States itself, which could be an act of war.
Jeanette Manfra, an assistant secretary of Homeland Security, credited quick work and cooperation with technology companies for the relatively small impact the attack had in the United States. “We cannot defend alone,” she said.
The cyberattacks began last May, freezing Windows computers and demanding $300 or more — payable in the crypto-currency Bitcoin — from users in order to unlock them. But those who paid quickly discovered that their computers remained frozen, and later victims refused to pay. The attack was halted when a 22-year-old computer user discovered a “kill switch” that allowed him to disable the malware.
Security officials quickly looked to North Korea, but Bossert said the official assessment took time. U.S. intelligence agencies, relying on help from independent researchers and tech companies, made the case that Pyongyang was behind the cyberattacks.
“The difficulty in attribution is often to figure out who was operating the keyboard on whose behalf,” he said. “We’re confident in this case that it was directed by the government of North Korea.”
The White House’s public blame of North Korea stands in contrast to its more understated stance toward the hacking of campaign-related emails last year, despite an intelligence community assessment that Russia was responsible.
But Bossert noted that Trump has renewed the Obama executive order imposing sanctions against Russia for its interference, and suspended the Moscow-based cybersecurity company Kaspersky Labs from federal contracts.
“Today is about North Korea, but I welcome the question about Russia. We stand with a good record.”
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