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FBI Says North Korea Responsible for Sony Hack (Updated)

There were similarities to previous attacks attributed to North Korea.

Katherine Welles/Shutterstock

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has identified the North Korean government as the culprit behind the devastating cyber attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment.

“As a result of our investigation, and in close collaboration with other U.S. Government departments and agencies, the FBI now has enough information to conclude that the North Korean government is responsible for these actions,” the FBI said in a statement.

FBI investigators said the attack, which destroyed computer systems; siphoned sensitive personal and commercial data; and culminated in a threat of violence, can be linked to Pyongyang.

A technical analysis of the malicious software used in the hack is similar to other malware North Korean agents have previously deployed, the FBI said. The infrastructure used in the incursion — including several Internet addresses — were linked to past North Korean cyber assaults, investigators found.

The FBI also said that software tools used to carry out the attack “have similarities” to those used in an attack in South Korea in March of 2013. That incident came to be known as the Dark Seoul attack, and crippled the computer networks of three South Korean TV broadcasters and three of the country’s banks. The South Korean government eventually found North Korea was responsible for the assault.

“We are deeply concerned about the destructive nature of this attack on a private sector entity and the ordinary citizens who worked there,” the FBI said in a statement. “Further, North Korea’s attack on SPE reaffirms that cyber threats pose one of the gravest national security dangers to the United States.”

The destructive nature of the attack set it apart from other cyber assaults on American businesses, the FBI said. Since the intrusion became public on Nov. 24, Sony Pictures has endured embarrassing disclosures from private email exchanges and had to watch as confidential business deals became public — and ultimately was forced to cancel the Christmas Day release of its comedy, “The Interview,” after theater owners who faced threats of violence refused to show it.

“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,” the FBI said. “Such acts of intimidation fall outside the bounds of acceptable state behavior. The FBI takes seriously any attempt — whether through cyber-enabled means, threats of violence, or otherwise — to undermine the economic and social prosperity of our citizens.”

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill were quick to condemn the state-sponsored cyber attack and to call for support of legislation to bolster cybersecurity.

“If North Korea has these capabilities, imagine what damage nation-sates like Russia, China or Iran can cause to our nation’s vital networks that control our power grid, energy and water supplies or other critical infrastructure,” said Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security. “We must do more to ensure our nation is able to prevent, detect and respond to the growing cyber threat.”

President Obama is expected to address the issue at a briefing scheduled for 1:30 pm ET. The White House has been considering a response to the attack, though the options are limited. A retaliatory cyber-attack would have little effect in a country where only a small number of people have access to the Internet, and in fact North Korea views this as a strategic advantage. Another option is the tightening of economic sanctions.

The Motion Picture Association of America issued a statement calling the hack a “despicable, criminal act.”

“This situation is larger than a movie’s release or the contents of someone’s private emails,” said MPAA Chairman Christopher Dodd. “This is about the fact that criminals were able to hack in and steal what has now been identified as many times the volume of all of the printed material in the Library of Congress and threaten the livelihoods of thousands of Americans who work in the film and television industry, as well as the millions who simply choose to go to the movies.”

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) echoed this sentiment, saying every American has a stake in ensuring that our free speech is not abridged by our own government — or a foreign government.

“The United States must stand firm against this type of aggression against our freedom of speech,” Goodlatte said in a statement. “Otherwise, these actions will have a chilling effect on creative works in the future.”

Here’s the FBI statement:


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