Officials eye North Korea as origin of cyber attack that showed US agencies unevenly prepared

By Lolita C. Baldor, AP
Thursday, July 9, 2009

US officials eye North Korea in cyber attack

WASHINGTON — U.S. authorities on Wednesday eyed North Korea as the origin of the widespread cyber attack that overwhelmed government Web sites in the United States and South Korea, although they warned that the complexities of the massive Internet make it difficult to identify the attackers quickly.

The powerful attack that stretched on for days over the holiday weekend targeted dozens of government and private sites, and underscored how unevenly prepared the U.S. government is to block such multipronged assaults. While Treasury Department and Federal Trade Commission Web sites were shut down by the malicious software attack, others such as the Pentagon and the White House were able to fend it off with little disruption.

The North Korea link, described by three officials, more firmly connected the U.S. attacks that began July 4 to the cyber assault Tuesday on government agencies in South Korea. The officials said that while Internet addresses have been traced to North Korea, that does not necessarily mean the attack involved the Pyongyang government.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

South Korea intelligence officials have identified North Korea as a suspect in those attacks and said that the sophistication of the assault suggested it was carried out at a higher level that just rogue or individual hackers.

U.S. officials would not go that far, and publicly declined to discuss who may have instigated the intrusion or how it was done.

In an Associated Press interview, Philip Reitinger, deputy under secretary at the Homeland Security Department, declined to discuss the origins of the attack.

The fact that a series of computers were involved in an attack, he said, “doesn’t say anything about the ultimate source of the attack.”

“What is says is that those computers were as much a target of the attack as the eventual Web sites that are targets,” Reitinger said. “They’re just zombies that are being used by some unseen third party to launch attacks against government and nongovernment Web sites.”

Reitinger, who heads DHS cybersecurity operations, said the far-reaching attacks demonstrate the importance of cybersecurity as a critical national security issue.

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