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Report: Hackers Stole Passwords to Access Sony's System

Report: Hackers Stole Passwords to Access Sony's System
(AFP/Getty Images)

By    |   Thursday, 18 December 2014 07:41 PM

Sony's computer system was hacked by individuals who stole the computer passwords of a system administrator — giving them "keys to the entire building," a U.S. official said Thursday.

The discovery has led officials to believe that the attack on Sony's Hollywood studio was not aided by anyone within the company, CNN reports.

It also has helped the United States conclude that hackers working on behalf of North Korea were behind the attack. The U.S. is expected to name the country in the hacking on Friday, CNN reports.

Because the hackers gained the credentials, the breach appeared to be an inside job, according to a U.S. official interviewed by the cable network. It's a standard approach in hackings.

The United States used signal intelligence and other means to trace the attack to North Korea, according to CNN. The effort located digital footprints that pointed to the country.

Some specifics on how the U.S. reached its conclusion are expected to be released as early as Friday, CNN reports.

Obama administration officials are still weighing their response to the attack — and the options include further sanctions against North Korea.

"We do think it's appropriate to respond," an official told CNN.

But White House press secretary Josh Earnest would not confirm earlier Thursday that the Obama administration had fingered North Korea, saying only that the hacking was still being investigated by the FBI and the Justice Department.

"There is evidence to indicate that we have seen destructive activity with malicious intent that was initiated by a sophisticated actor," Earnest told reporters.

The United States' response would need to be "proportional," he said, adding that national security officials who are weighing possible actions are "also mindful of the fact that sophisticated actors when they carry out actions like this are oftentimes, not always, but often seeking to provoke a response from the United States."

Sony on Wednesday canceled the planned Christmas Day release of "The Interview" in light of threats made in recent weeks. The film depicts the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

The White House did not pressure Sony in its decision, a top administration official told CNN.

"There was no pressure," the individual said. "Absolutely not."

Discussions with Sony on the issue occurred primarily in phone calls between the company and the FBI. Their contents were relayed to the White House, according to CNN.

According to Bloomberg, the hackers  probably spent months collecting passwords and mapping the network before they committed a last act of vandalism, setting off a virus that wiped out data and crashed the system in 10 minutes.

Trend Micro Inc. arrived at these conclusions after running simulations on a copy of the virus that struck Sony Pictures Entertainment’s computers. The Tokyo-based developer of security software declined to reveal where it got the malware.

The research details methods used by hackers in what’s become one of the highest-profile cyber-attacks in history. Since November, a group calling itself Guardians of Peace has released private e-mails, salaries and health records of Sony employees to stop the release of “The Interview,” a comedy about a plot to assassinate North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un.

“They were probably in the system for months,” Masayoshi Someya, whose title is security evangelist at Trend Micro, said in an interview in Tokyo this month. “One thing that’s very unique about the malware is that it had a payload with a particular time bomb-type capability.”

While it’s unclear how the hackers got access to Sony’s network, the virus they used to destroy it is available on the black market and can be used without a high level of technical sophistication, according to Someya. It was customized for the company, embedding in the program account names and passwords and targeting the security software, he said.

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Sony's computer system was hacked by individuals who stole the computer passwords of a system administrator — giving them "keys to the entire building," a U.S. official said Thursday.
sony, emails, hacked, investigation
Thursday, 18 December 2014 07:41 PM
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