LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — The FBI said Friday there’s enough evidence to conclude the North Korean government was responsible for the cyber attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment.
The company was hacked by a group identified as “Guardians of Peace” last month over their new film “The Interview”, a comedy about the fictional assassination of North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un.
Sony canceled the film’s Christmas Day release earlier this week after several of the largest movie theaters chains announced they would not show it in response to a threat that referenced the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attack.
The incident was considered a matter of national security, prompting an investigation by the FBI and the NSA.
“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 agency’s statement reads. “We are deeply concerned about the destructive nature of this attack on a private sector entity and the ordinary citizens who worked there. Further, North Korea’s attack on SPE reaffirms that cyber threats pose one of the gravest national security dangers to the United States.”
According to the FBI, their conclusion was based in part on the technical analysis of the data deletion malware that was developed by North Korean actors, the identification of IP addresses associated with North Korean infrastructure and connection between similar tools used in a cyber attack carried out by North Korea on South Korean banks and media outlets in March 2013.
“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,” FBI’s statement continued. “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.”
A U.S. official confirmed to CBS News that Sony executives received an email Friday morning from the hackers praising the company’s decision to shelve “The Interview.”
The email said in part, ” … Very wise to cancel ‘The Interview.’ It will be very useful for you. We ensure the purity of your data and as long as you make no more trouble.”
“Now we want you never let the movie released, distributed or leaked in any form, of, for instance, DVD or piracy,” the email continued.
In his year-end news conference Friday, President Barack Obama addressed the attack and candidly said he believes Sony made a mistake in cancelling the film’s release.
“In this interconnected digital world, there are going to be opportunities for hackers to engage in cyber assaults both in the private sector and the public center,” he said. “We cannot have a society in which some dictators in some places can start imposing censorship here in the United States.”
“I wish [Sony] had spoken to me first. I would have told them do not get into a pattern in which you’re intimidated by these kinds of criminal attacks,” he said. “I think that says something interesting about North Korea that they decided to have an all-out assault on the movie studio because of a satirical movie.”
Sony Pictures released a statement around 2 p.m. Friday stating they are looking into alternative ways to release the film.
“Sony Pictures Entertainment is and always has been strongly committed to the First Amendment. For more than three weeks, despite brutal intrusions into our company and our employees’ personal lives, we maintained our focus on one goal: getting the film ‘The Interview’ released. Free expression should never be suppressed by threats and extortion,” the company said. “The decision not to move forward with the December 25 theatrical release of ‘The Interview’ was made as a result of the majority of the nation’s theater owners choosing not to screen the film. This was their decision.”
“Let us be clear – the only decision that we have made with respect to release of the film was not to release it on Christmas Day in theaters, after the theater owners declined to show it. Without theaters, we could not release it in the theaters on Christmas Day. We had no choice,” the statement continued. “After that decision, we immediately began actively surveying alternatives to enable us to release the movie on a different platform. It is still our hope that anyone who wants to see this movie will get the opportunity to do so.”
Obama said the U.S. government will respond to the cyber attack in an appropriate manner.
“They caused a lot damage and we will respond. We will respond proportionally, and we will respond in a place and time and manner that we choose,” he said.
Meanwhile, Variety Senior Editor Ted Johnson said he was surprised by Obama’s harsh message for Sony.
“Obama actually has quite a lot of ties to that studio. Remember, he held a re-election fundraiser there. Michael Lynton, the CEO of the studio, is longtime friends with the Obamas’ going very far back,” Johnson said. “But look at the bigger picture. If the President were to say, ‘I support Sony in its decision,’ there would have been a lot of outrage as to how does the American media, how does does the content community respond when this happens again?”
Lynton responded to Obama’s critical remarks by stating: “I would be fibbing to say I wasn’t disappointed. The president and I haven’t spoken. I don’t know exactly whether he understands the sequence of events that led up to the movie not being shown in the movie theaters and therefore I would disagree with the notion that it was a mistake.”
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