White House Homeland Security Adviser Tom Bossert speaks during a briefing on the attribution of the WannaCry Malware Attack to North Korea on Monday, Dec. 19, 2017 in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House, in Washington, D.C. (Oliver Contreras/Sipa USA/TNS)

White House blames North Korea for worldwide ‘WannaCry’ cyberattack

WASHINGTON — The White House officially blamed North Korea on Tuesday for the cyberattack in May known as WannaCry that infected hundreds of thousands of computers in 150 countries, affecting health care, financial services and vital infrastructure.

Thomas P. Bossert, assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, noted in a briefing with reporters that the “consequences were beyond economic.” He warned that North Korea’s “malicious behavior is growing more egregious.”

Bossert did not specify what evidence American officials have to blame North Korea, citing security issues, but he cited the country’s prior attacks as revealing hallmarks of how Pyongyang and its network of hackers operate. He said other allied countries had joined the United States in making the determination.

The administration did not announce any penalties on the regime, which is already subject to severe sanctions over its nuclear program.

“They want to hold the entire world at risk,” Bossert said of North Korea’s rulers, referring to the nation’s nuclear and missile provocations as well as its alleged cyberattack.

Given its isolation and international sanctions, North Korea is desperate for funds. Bossert said the country did not appear to make much money on the ransom attack, as word spread that paying a ransom did not result in getting computers unlocked. Its primary goal, he said, was spreading chaos.

Bossert and Jeanette Manfra, assistant secretary of homeland security for cybersecurity and communication, said the United States, through a combination of preparation and luck, escaped the worst of the attack, as a patch to the malware was found before U.S. companies and other interests were severely crippled.

However, Manfra said, “We cannot be complacent.” Bossert added, “Next time we’re not going to get so lucky.”

Manfra praised Microsoft and Facebook for their efforts to combat WannaCry and to block more recent attempts to hack U.S. systems. She and Bossert urged more cooperation and information-sharing from American and multinational companies, arguing a united front is vital to protecting against bad actors who do not differentiate between government and business.

Bossert rejected criticism that the the Trump administration has more aggressively called out North Korean cyberattacks than it has Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election. He said the administration has continued the national emergency initiated by President Barack Obama.

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