North Korea blamed for cyber attack on Sony

Kim Jong-un is reportedly furious at his portrayal in the film The Interview, starring James Franco and Seth Rogen

Kim Jong-un is reportedly furious at his portrayal in the film The Interview, starring James Franco and Seth Rogen

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North Korea’s leadership has, over the years, provided a rich source of material for Hollywood, with films portraying power-mad villains who pose a threat to world peace.

But a new comedy, The Interview, about a plot to kill the country’s leader, Kim Jong-un, appears to have offended the Marxist regime so much that it has reportedly hit back.

North Korea is being blamed for a crippling cyber-attack on the film’s distributors, Sony Pictures Entertainment, a move which resulted in as-yet-unreleased films being leaked on the internet.

North Korea has refused to deny involvement in the cyber-attack that came ahead of the release of The Interview, which stars Seth Rogen and James Franco as two reporters who are granted an audience with Jong-un and then enlisted by the CIA to assassinate him.

It is no secret that the film has enraged the regime. In June, Pyongyang complained to the United Nations and the US about the comedy, describing it as an act of war and an “undisguised sponsoring of terrorism”.

Then last week California-based Sony Pictures’ computer system was knocked out, crippling its e-mail system. The hackers went on to publish a number of as-yet unreleased films on online download sites.

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Among the titles leaked is a remake of the classic film Annie, which is not due for release until 19 December, but The Interview itself was not released.

Asked whether it was responsible for the cyber-attack, a spokesman for North Korea’s UN mission said: “The hostile forces are relating everything to the DPRK [North Korea]. I kindly advise you to just wait and see.”

On Monday, Sony Pictures said it had restored a number of important services that had to be shut down after the attack.

It also said it was working closely with police to investigate the matter but made no mention of North Korea.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has since issued a warning to other US businesses to be on the guard against further cyber-attacks.

The FBI’s report on the cyber-assault said the attackers were “unknown”, but the technology news site Re/code reported that Sony was investigating to determine whether hackers working on behalf of North Korea were responsible for the attack as retribution for the distributing The Interview.

In its warning, the FBI gave some details of its report on the nature of the assault. “The overwriting of the data files will make it extremely difficult and costly, if not impossible, to recover the data using standard forensic methods,” the report said.

Though the FBI report did not state that explicitly that Sony had been the target, cyber-security experts said the malicious software set out in the alert appeared to describe the one that affected Sony, which would mark the first major destructive cyber attack waged against a company on US soil.

“I believe the co-ordinated cyber-attack with destructive payloads against a corporation in the US represents a watershed event,” said Tom Kellermann, chief cyber-security officer with security software maker Trend Micro Inc. “Geopolitics now serve as harbingers for destructive cyber-attacks.”

Hackers have used malware similar to that described in the FBI report to launch attacks on businesses in South Korea and the Middle East, including one against oil producer Saudi Aramco that knocked out some 30,000 computers. Those attacks are widely believed to have been launched on behalf of the governments of North Korea and Iran.

Security experts said that repairing the computers requires technicians to manually either replace the hard drives on each computer, or re-format them, a time-consuming and expensive process.

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