In May of this year, over 300,000 computers were hit with the devastating WannaCry ransomware, forcing hospitals across the United Kingdom to turn back visitors after 70,000 of their own machines were compromised. The attack also hit government facilities in Russia and India, along with crippling several auto manufacturers. While a remedy was found within just a few days, the attack, which encrypted a system’s data and forced users to pay a ransom via Bitcoin, is estimated by some sources to have caused upwards of $4 billion in damage.
A recent announcement from the White House earlier this week firmly established the attack as originating from North Korea. This confirmed the results of an investigation by British authorities carried out in November. The White House also went on record this week to recognize the role both Facebook and Microsoft played in protecting users from WannaCry and similar cyber attacks.
Homeland security advisor Tom Bossert announced North Korea’s involvement in a press conference wherein he also praised the two companies for their continued role in fending off such attacks. According to Bossert, Microsoft carried out its own investigation that provided clear evidence linking North Korea to the devastating attack. The company was also quick to provide patches that defended against not only WannaCry, but other ongoing attacks. Likewise, Facebook moderators have been swift in taking down accounts that were being used as vectors to spread the malicious software.
May’s hack is not the only threat linked to the country, but Facebook and Microsoft’s vigilance has stymied efforts by both North Korea and other foreign powers to harm users. The two companies, along with several others, joined together in the battle against the ZINC malware, a threat purportedly linked to the Lazarus Group, the same team behind the WannaCry attack. Facebook sent out messages to users who they believed had been targeted by the attack and provided advice on how to better secure their accounts.
Brad Smith, chief legal officer with Microsoft, said the efforts mark the beginning of an increasingly important partnership between “government and private sector action.” The Trump administration has mirrored this position, with cybersecurity Homeland Security secretary Jeanette Manfra calling for greater cooperation between government and private entities. She stated that public and private groups make it simple for attacks to succeed “by operating independently” since attackers do not distinguish between victims. She also called this new policy of cooperation “inspiring.”