FBI says “sloppy” work by Sony hackers pointed to North Korea

Security experts are likely to remain unsatisfied with an explanation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s boss as to how they linked North Korea to the attacks on Sony.

James Comey, the FBI’s Director National Intelligence, on Wednesday said the hackers behind Sony Pictures Entertainment made an error when attempting to cover their tracks: they had used a proxy server to email threatening messages to Sony staff on most occasions, but on a few they’d connected directly from their originating IP address.

Comey said the group, known as the Guardians of Peace, “got sloppy” on several occasions allowing allowing the FBI to see the IP addresses that they’d used “were IPs that were exclusively used by the North Koreans”, Reuters reported

Comey’s comments were made at the International Conference on Cyber Security at Fordham University in New York.

Comey said the hackers quickly shut off communications when they released their mistake but “not before we saw them and knew where it was coming from”. The FBI, he said, was still not aware of how the attackers managed to penetrate Sony’s network but evidence pointed to a spear phishing campaign that began before the breach was detected on November 24.

The information provided by Comey is likely to do little to assuage concerns by security experts who have questioned the scant evidence put forth by the agency thus far as the basis for the accusation.

Rob Graham of Errata Security pointed out that while the FBI had now pointed out IP addresses as evidence, those IP addresses still remained sealed, leaving the agency's claims free from scrutiny.

Based on the initial FBI announcement assigning blame to North Korea, cryptography expert Bruce Schneier pointed out that “clues in the hackers' attack code seem to point in all directions at once”.

And while Korean language coding was initially used as a possible pointer to North Korea, an independent analysis of the text in messages communicating with Sony suggested a higher chance that Russian hackers were orchestrating the attacks.

According to Reuters, Comey urged US intelligence to declassify information that showed hackers used the servers he’d pointed to on Wednesday.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has previously said his North Korean counterpart, General Kim Youn Chol, was behind the order to attack Sony, according to The Daily Beast.

The attack on Sony was linked to the release of the movie The Interview, which depicted the violent assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

This article is brought to you by Enex TestLab, content directors for CSO Australia.


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