US Says N. Korea Behind Sony Cyber Attack – Voice of America

Posted: Thursday, December 18, 2014

Media reports say the U.S. has determined that North Korea is behind the hacking of Sony Pictures, which gave in to security concerns and canceled the release of a film about a fictional plot to assassinate Pyongyang’s leader, Kim Jong Un.


Speaking on condition of anonymity, U.S. officials said investigators have connected North Korea to the cyberattack. The massive breach resulted in the leak of tens of thousands of documents and has escalated to threats of terrorist attacks over the film “The Interview.”


It is not clear how investigators made the determination or how the White House will respond.


Last month’s attack, resulted in the leak confidential Sony data, including the private details of thousands of company employees, former employees and freelancers, as well as several Hollywood stars.  


Sony was preparing for a Christmas Day release of the comedy film about two journalists recruited by the Central Intelligence Agency to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.


On Wednesday, Sony said it was scrapping the December 25 release of “The Interview,” after several major theater chains chose not to show the film. Sony has no current plans to release it.


In a statement, Sony said it was “deeply saddened at this brazen effort to suppress the distribution of a movie and, in the process, do damage to our company, our employees and the American public. We stand by our filmmakers and their right to free expression and are extremely disappointed by this outcome.”


In an interview late Wednesday with ABC News, President Barack Obama called the cyber attack on Sony Pictures “very serious.”


 “We’re investigating it. We’re taking it seriously.  We’ll be vigilant,” Obama said. ” If we see something that we think is serious and credible, we’ll alert the public. But, for now, my recommendation would be that people go to the movies.”


Limited options


Australian National University Korea analyst Leonid Petrov tells VOA if the U.S. believes Pyongyang is responsible, its options are limited.


“I don’t think the U.S. government has any leverage to influence North Korea. There’s no negotiations, there’s no diplomatic representation. There’s no trade. There’s basically no exchange, no joint projects.”


The U.S. and its allies have already imposed round after round of economic sanctions on North Korea for its nuclear and missile programs. The sanctions have devastated the North’s economy and left it isolated from the rest of the world, but also resistant to further punishment by it.


Remco Breuker, a professor of Korean studies at the Netherlands’ Leiden University, agrees that the U.S. has few good choices.


“I think the only thing you can do is take a very tough line on what you think should happen. So if North Korea is behind this, the best thing the U.S. could do is make sure this picture does get released one way or the other and protect from further hacking attempts.


Columbia Pictures World Premiere of "The Interview"

Columbia Pictures World Premiere of “The Interview”



Pyongyang condemns movie


Pyongyang, angered by the film, condemned “The Interview” as an act of terrorism and war and promised “merciless retaliation.” Officials acknowledged the hacking may have been the work of pro-regime supporters. But Pyongyang has denied involvement in the attack. A North Korean diplomat told VOA earlier this month the accusation was a “fabrication.”


A hacker group calling itself “Guardians of Peace” earlier promised a “bitter fate” to those who attend showings of “The Interview.” The group invoked the September 11, 2001 attacks on the U.S. and warned people to “keep yourself distant” from theaters where the film is playing.


The U.S. Department of Homeland Security says “there is no credible intelligence to indicate an active plot against movie theaters.


However, Reuters reports the Federal Bureau of Investigation has advised theaters and other businesses associated with the Sony movie that they could be subjected to cyber attack. 


Eriq Gardner, senior editor of The Hollywood Reporter, said the scale of the Sony hacking is unprecedented.


“There have been things that have made Hollywood studios change distribution of movies, but nothing like an attack from a nation-state forcing its hands on a movie that is really just a comedy. This is almost unimaginable. But, certainly, it’s a tough situation for them [Sony]. The hack attack has put a lot of attention on this film, and I suppose certain people are kind of curious now to see what it’s all about. There have been some people who have speculated, maybe jokingly, that this was all just a publicity stunt, but really no matter how much money the film makes from here on out, it will not have been worth it to Sony. This is absolutely terrible for them,” said Gardner.


Financial loss


The movie’s budget is about $40 million, and one estimate put the film’s potential revenue as up to $100 million. Instead, Doug Stone of the film industry newsletter “Box Office Analyst” believes, Sony is set to lose up to $55 million and could opt to release the film at a later date or offer it as a video on-demand.


RAND Corporation North Korea analyst Bruce Bennett said Sony’s decision to cancel the film’s release sets a potentially bad precedent.


“Foreigners, who want to stop the release of a film, can now follow the example of these hackers. That’s dangerous for the United States,” said Bennett.


And, he added, it is good news for North Korea’s leaders.


“They don’t want this film to get out. They particularly don’t want it to get on DVD and get circulated into North Korea, which a lot of outside DVDs do because of the way it depicts Kim Jong Un fairly accurately, as being ruthless and deceptive and just in ways that don’t coincide with the regime’s propaganda,” said Bennett.


Hollywood reacts


Many in Hollywood took to Twitter to speak out against Sony’s decision to scrap the movie’s release. Actor Rob Lowe, who was part of the cast of “The Interview,” tweeted that “everyone caved. The hackers won… an utter and complete victory for them.  Hollywood has done Neville Chamberlain proud,” a reference to the British prime minister who sought to appease Nazi leader Adolph Hitler before World War II.




 


Comedian Jimmy Kimmel called the move “an un-American act of cowardice that validates terrorist’s actions and sets a terrifying precedent.” Comedian Steve Carell, whose own film set in North Korea has been canceled, said it was a “sad day for creative expression.”

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