FBI blames North Korea for Sony hack

The Star (St. Lucia) - - INTERNATIONAL - By ERIC TUCKER

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion on Fri­day De­cem­ber 12 for­mally ac­cused the North Korean gov­ern­ment of be­ing re­spon­si­ble for the dev­as­tat­ing hack­ing at­tack against Sony Pic­tures En­ter­tain­ment, pro­vid­ing the most de­tailed ac­count­ing to date of a hugely ex­pen­sive break-in that could lead to a U.S. re­sponse.

The FBI said in a state­ment that it now has enough ev­i­dence to con­clude that North Korea was be­hind the pun­ish­ing breach which re­sulted in the dis­clo­sure of tens of thou­sands of leaked emails and other ma­te­ri­als.

“North Korea’s ac­tions were in­tended to in­flict sig­nif­i­cant harm on a U.S. business and sup­press the right of Amer­i­can cit­i­zens to ex­press them­selves. Such acts of in­tim­i­da­tion fall out­side the bounds of ac­cept­able state be­hav­ior,” the state­ment said.

The FBI’s state­ment cited, among other fac­tors, tech­ni­cal sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween the Sony break-in and past “ma­li­cious cy­ber ac­tiv­ity” linked di­rectly to North Korea, in­clud­ing a prior cy­ber­at­tack against South Korean banks and me­dia.

A group iden­ti­fy­ing it­self as Guardians of Peace has taken re­spon­si­bil­ity for the Sony breach which was re­ported in late Novem­ber and in­volved the use of de­struc­tive mal­ware that caused the stu­dio to take its en­tire com­puter net­work off­line and left thou­sands of com­put­ers in­op­er­a­ble, the FBI said.

Pres­i­dent Barack Obama is ex­pected to face ques­tions about the Sony hack at a year-end news con­fer­ence with re­porters.

The break-in has had wide-rang­ing ram­i­fi­ca­tions for the stu­dio, spilling into pub­lic view can­did and con­fi­den­tial dis­cus­sions among ex­ec­u­tives and lead­ing to law­suits from those who say their per­sonal and fi­nan­cial data was ex­posed on­line. This week, the cy­ber­at­tack es­ca­lated with ter­ror­ist threats against movie the­aters that planned to show the movie “The In­ter­view,” a com­edy star­ring James Franco and Seth Ro­gen that for months has been con­demned by the North Korean gov­ern­ment.

In re­sponse to the threats, Sony can­celed the Christ­mas Day re­lease of the film — a com­edy about a plot to as­sas­si­nate North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un — and said it had no fur­ther plans to dis­trib­ute it.

After Sony shelved the film’s re­lease, hack­ers sent a new email prais­ing the stu­dio’s decision as “very wise” and say­ing its data would be safe “as long as you make no more trou­ble.” The mes­sage warned the stu­dio to “never” re­lease the film “in any form” in­clud­ing on DVD. The email was con­firmed last Fri­day by a per­son close to the stu­dio who wasn’t au­tho­rized to speak pub­licly about the mat­ter and re­quested anonymity. An FBI spokesman said au­thor­i­ties were aware of the email and were in­ves­ti­gat­ing.

The Mo­tion Pic­ture As­so­ci­a­tion of Amer­ica called the Sony at­tack a “de­spi­ca­ble, crim­i­nal act” that threat­ened the lives of thou­sands of peo­ple in the film and tele­vi­sion in­dus­tries.

North Korea has de­nied re­spon­si­bil­ity but ear­lier this month re­ferred to the cy­ber­at­tack as a “right­eous deed.” A North Korean diplo­mat to the United Na­tions, Kim Un Chol, de­clined to com­ment about the FBI’s ac­cu­sa­tions.

Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials had, un­til last Fri­day, de­clined to openly blame North Korea but had said they were weigh­ing var­i­ous op­tions for a re­sponse. The state­ment last Fri­day did not re­veal what op­tions were be­ing con­sid­ered but did say the gov­ern­ment would look to “im­pose costs and con­se­quences.”

At first glance, the op­tions for a U.S. re­sponse seem limited. Bring­ing the shad­owy hack­ers to jus­tice ap­pears a dis­tant prospect. A U.S. cy­ber-re­tal­i­a­tion against North Korea would risk a dan­ger­ous es­ca­la­tion. And North Korea is al­ready tar­geted by a raft of sanc­tions over its nu­clear weapons pro­gram.

The FBI did not in­di­cate whether it has iden­ti­fied any in­di­vid­ual hack­ers who might be cul­pa­ble. In May, the Jus­tice Depart­ment an­nounced in­dict­ments against five Chi­nese mil­i­tary of­fi­cers ac­cused of vast cy­ber-es­pi­onage against Amer­i­can cor­po­rate in­ter­ests, but none of those de­fen­dants has yet to set foot in an Amer­i­can court­room. As­so­ci­ated Press Writ­ers Jake Coyle in New York and Cara Anna at the United Na­tions con­trib­uted to this re­port.

A scene from the Sony pic­tures com­edy “The In­ter­view” which was due to be

re­leased Christ­mas Day. The movie has since been pulled.

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