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.

Upcoming IT Security Events

Feb 3rd, Feb 4th, Feb 6th 2015

Join @NirZuk #PaloAltoNetworks for Breakfast (lunch in Auckland) on keeping your enterprise safe from risk. Cyber attacks continue to increase in volume and sophistication leaving traditional security practices completely ineffective. 

Register Today Seats are limited

March 3rd, March 5th, March 9th 2015

Join CSO for the day@#csoperspectives and hear from @kimzetter @frankheidt @simplenomad

3 International Keynote speakers, 36 Key IT Security Industry Speaker, 21 Exhibitors, Security Analysts and many more.. Register today

Dont miss one of the biggest IT Security events in ANZ (registration is free, but seats are limited)

Join the CSO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags new yorkJames Comeynorth koreaSony Picturesfbibruce schneierCSO AustraliaFederal Bureau of Investigation’sGuardians of PeaceThe Daily BeastFordham UniversityEnex TestLabSony hackers

More about CSOEnex TestLabFBIFederal Bureau of InvestigationIT SecuritySony

Show Comments

Featured Whitepapers

Editor's Recommendations

Solution Centres

Stories by Liam Tung

Latest Videos

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Will your data protection strategy be enough when disaster strikes?

    Speakers: - Paul O’Connor, Engagement leader - Performance Audit Group, Victorian Auditor-General’s Office (VAGO) - Nigel Phair, Managing Director, Centre for Internet Safety - Joshua Stenhouse, Technical Evangelist, Zerto - Anthony Caruana, CSO MC & Moderator

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: The Human Factor - Your people are your biggest security weakness

    ​Speakers: David Lacey, Researcher and former CISO Royal Mail David Turner - Global Risk Management Expert Mark Guntrip - Group Manager, Email Protection, Proofpoint

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Current ransomware defences are failing – but machine learning can drive a more proactive solution

    Speakers • Ty Miller, Director, Threat Intelligence • Mark Gregory, Leader, Network Engineering Research Group, RMIT • Jeff Lanza, Retired FBI Agent (USA) • Andy Solterbeck, VP Asia Pacific, Cylance • David Braue, CSO MC/Moderator What to expect: ​Hear from industry experts on the local and global ransomware threat landscape. Explore a new approach to dealing with ransomware using machine-learning techniques and by thinking about the problem in a fundamentally different way. Apply techniques for gathering insight into ransomware behaviour and find out what elements must go into a truly effective ransomware defence. Get a first-hand look at how ransomware actually works in practice, and how machine-learning techniques can pick up on its activities long before your employees do.

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Get real about metadata to avoid a false sense of security

    Speakers: • Anthony Caruana – CSO MC and moderator • Ian Farquhar, Worldwide Virtual Security Team Lead, Gigamon • John Lindsay, Former CTO, iiNet • Skeeve Stevens, Futurist, Future Sumo • David Vaile - Vice chair of APF, Co-Convenor of the Cyberspace Law And Policy Community, UNSW Law Faculty This webinar covers: - A 101 on metadata - what it is and how to use it - Insight into a typical attack, what happens and what we would find when looking into the metadata - How to collect metadata, use this to detect attacks and get greater insight into how you can use this to protect your organisation - Learn how much raw data and metadata to retain and how long for - Get a reality check on how you're using your metadata and if this is enough to secure your organisation

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them Featuring: • John Baird, Director of Global Technology Production, Deutsche Bank • Samantha Macleod, GM Cyber Security, ME Bank • Sherrod DeGrippo, Director of Emerging Threats, Proofpoint (USA)

    Play Video

More videos

Blog Posts

Market Place