North Korea Is Not Amused

It appears Kim Jong-Un can’t take a joke:

Sony Pictures Entertainment is exploring the possibility that hackers working on behalf of North Korea, perhaps operating out of China, may be behind a devastating attack that brought the studio’s network to a screeching halt earlier this week, sources familiar with the matter tell Re/code. The timing of the attack coincides with the imminent release of “The Interview,” a Sony film that depicts a CIA plot to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un. The nation’s ever-belligerent state propaganda outlets have threatened “merciless retaliation” against the U.S. and other nations if the film is released.

Anna Fifield puts the cyber attack in context:

Although no one but the most elite of the elite has access to the Internet in North Korea, the Kim regime has been building quite a cyber army and it has a record when it comes to devastating cyber attacks. Pyongyang was blamed for a massive hack on South Korean sites – including government, media and banking sites – last year that coincided with the anniversary of the start of the Korean War.

Alan Woodward questions whether North Korea is really to blame:

North Korea quite possibly has motive, means and opportunity to carry out this attack on Sony, but as with any successful prosecution, that isn’t enough. We need evidence. We will have to wait for the detailed forensic work to complete before we stand a realistic chance of knowing for certain.

That may or may not be forthcoming, but in the meantime we should consider what this event tells us about the balance of power in cyberspace. In a world in which major disruption can be caused with scant resources and little skill, all enemies are a threat. North Korea might be the rogue state that everyone loves to hate but there are plenty of others who could have done it.

On the other hand, North Korea isn’t denying that is was responsible. And the WSJ reports that the hackers “used tools very similar to those used last year to attack South Korean television stations and ATMs.” Regardless, the hack could have serious economic consequences for Sony:

So far the biggest tangible result of the hack seems to be the leak of five Sony films. DVD-quality versions of FuryAnnie, Still Alice, Mr. Turner and To Write Love on Her Arms are all now available on file-sharing sites. All of the movies except for Fury have yet to be widely released, so piracy could be a huge blow to their box office take. Over the summer, The Expendables 3 bombed at the box office because a high-quality version of the movie leaked online weeks before it premiered. And a 2011 Carnegie Mellon study found that such pre-release leaks can reduce a movie’s box office take by as much as 19%.