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Microsoft seizes NK internet domains

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Building 92 at Microsoft Corporation headquarters in Redmond, Washington. Photographed by user Coolcaesar on 30 May 2016. wikimedia/Coolcaesar

(AFP) – Microsoft said it obtained a court order allowing it to seize web domains used by North Korean hacking groups to launch cyberattacks on human rights activists, researchers and others.

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The US technology giant said a federal court allowed it to take control of 50 domains operated by a group dubbed Thallium, which tricked online users by fraudulently using Microsoft brands and trademarks.

“This network was used to target victims and then compromise their online accounts, infect their computers, compromise the security of their networks and steal sensitive information,” said Tom Burt, Microsoft’s vice-president for customer security and trust.

“Based on victim information, the targets included government employees, think tanks, university staff members, members of organisations focused on world peace and human rights, and individuals that work on nuclear proliferation issues. Most targets were based in the US, as well as Japan and South Korea.”

Microsoft, which had been investigating the group through its Digital Crimes Unit and Threat Intelligence Centre, said the hacking group sent spoofed emails that appeared to come from Microsoft which tricked users into revealing their login credentials, a technique known as spear phishing.

“By gathering information about the targeted individuals from social media, public personnel directories from organisations the individual is involved with and other public sources, Thallium is able to craft a personalised spear-phishing email in a way that gives the email credibility to the target,” Burt said.

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