The U.S. government has linked North Korea to the cyber terror siege of Sony Pictures Entertainment. But the massive cyber attack that nixed the entire release of an new comedy film appears to have also cowed the American entertainment industry.
By pulling “The Interview” from circulation, Sony could lose as much as $100 million, according to a report in Business Insider\.
The movie, which depicts an assassination attempt on the life of North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un, outraged that country. North Korea demanded during the production phase that the U.S. government cancel the movie. That did not happen; in fact, two White House officials had actually approved the plot line before the comedy went to production.
Once the hacker group “Guardians of Peace” followed up three weeks of a cyber siege with an actual physical terror threat, Hollywood went into a panic and so did the entire American entertainment industry.
First the Landmark Theater chain canceled its December 25 New York City premier of the film at the Sunshine Theater on the Lower East Side. Then four of the largest chains backed out of showing the movie altogether, comprising thousands of small theaters around the United States and Canada.
Unnamed U.S. government sources told NBC News that a “linkage to the North Korean government” had been found to prove it was “centrally involved” in the cyber attack.
And in a report published in The New York Times, bits of the evidence were pieced together. They showed how the hacker group was taking orders from North Korea, and how they carried out a previous similar attack against South Korea, using commercial tools routed via Bolivian servers last year. Similar tools were used in 2012 against Saudi Arabia.
Sony itself is also examining the possibility the hackers had inside help as well: the names of Sony servers and administrative credentials were used to allow the malware to spread across the company’s network.
Experts said the hack is “the first major attack on a U.S. company to use a highly destructive class of malicious software that is designed to make computer networks unable to operate,” Reuters reported.
The U.S. government seems to have signaled its de facto surrender to North Korea, the apparent patron behind the “Guardians of Peace.” U.S. media quoted senior government officials who said the White House was debating whether to publicly accuse North Korea over the attack and threats that followed. No one would speak on the record, and officials said the White House had yet to decide how to respond.
Japan also has had something to say about the matter, because it is apparently engaged in delicate negotiations with North Korea over the return of its citizens kidnapped years ago.
U.S. national intelligence officials concluded the cyber attack was state-sponsored and “far more destructive than any seen before on American soil,” NYT reported. A senior administration official admitted the attack that began by wiping out the data on Sony’s corporate computers had become “a threat to the safety of Americans.”
Not only North Korea but hackers based in China, and sponsored by that government as well, have taken aim before at U.S. corporations. This latest attack, however, “was of a sophistication that a year ago we would have said was beyond the North’s capabilities,” the official told NYT.
Massive attacks aimed at the computer systems of the White House itself, as well as those of the State Department, and JPMorgan Chase banking system, have kept counter cyber terror officials busy. The first two attacks were tentatively attributed ultimately to Moscow; the latter is still a question mark.
But the ambiguous response by the White House to the most devastating cyber attack ever on a U.S.-based corporation has done nothing to reassure American citizens. Nor has it inspired confidence among U.S. allies, who are watching to see if, when and how the White House will respond to the attack, termed by some as an “act of war.”
Hana Levi Julian