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New Insight on WannaCry's Roots

Is it possible we've been looking in the wrong direction for the source of the WannaCry attack?

Ever since news of the WannaCry attack broke, people have been searching for the culprits -- those responsible for the attack and from which evil lair the attacks were launched. Many fingers were pointed at Russia and eastern Europe -- but were those fingers pointed at the wrong target?

According to an article in Foreign Policy, those early fingers might have been pointed too far to the West. The article references researchers at Symantec and other anti-malware companies who found tell-tale electronic fingerprints on the attack -- fingerprints that would seem to belong to hackers in North Korea.

For years, security researchers have used digital "fingerprints," or snippets of code that tend to be unique to an individual programmer or group of programmers, to identify the source of attacks and vulnerability exploits. Over time, these researchers have found that this evidence that a particular programmer worked on a block of code tend to be persistent, no matter how many other hackers might touch the malware, because of the tendency to cut and paste rather than develop each attack from a clean sheet of paper.

The fingerprints on the WannaCry code indicate that it spent time in North Korea. What it doesn't really say, is whether the attack was launched, or ordered, by North Koreans. There are plenty of signs to indicate that the attack didn't come from a nation state: It didn't really raise very much money, and the feature that allowed a researcher to stop WannaCry in its tracks was rather crudely implemented.

Why does all this matter?

Because, like plant and animal DNA, the digital fingerprints on malware ultimately allow researchers to tell the story of where the software has been, how it's evolved, and how it's likely to be used in the future. All of that adds up to information that makes it possible to more effectively fight the malware and remediate the damage done, and ultimately, to point the finger of responsibility in the right direction.

— Curtis Franklin is the editor of SecurityNow.com. Follow him on Twitter @kg4gwa.

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