The United States is reviewing whether to put North Korea back on its list of state sponsors of terrorism, in the wake of the Sony hacking case, president Barack Obama has said.
He made the announcement as the US decides how to respond to the cyber-attack that American law enforcement agencies have blamed on the Communist country.
Mr Obama described the hacking case as a “very costly, very expensive” example of cyber-vandalism but did not call it an act of war.
The Interview had been due for release in the US on Christmas Day, but Sony said on Friday it would withdraw the film.
In trying to make a proportionate response in the case, the president said the US would examine the facts to determine whether North Korea should find itself back on the terrorism sponsors’ list. “We’re going to review those through a process that’s already in place,” Mr Obama said. “I’ll wait to review what the findings are.”
North Korea spent two decades on the list until the Bush administration removed it in 2008 during nuclear negotiations. Some law-makers have called for the designation to be restored following the hack that led Sony to cancel the release of the big-budget film that North Korea found offensive.
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Only Iran, Sudan, Syria and Cuba remain on the list, which triggers sanctions that limit US aid, defence exports and certain financial transactions.
Reinstating North Korea may be difficult, as the state department’s criteria are that a country must have repeatedly supported acts of international terrorism – which in the past has referred to violent, physical attacks, rather than hacking.
Mr Obama also levelled fresh criticism at Sony over its decision to shelve The Interview – a comedy starring Seth Rogen and James Franco about the assassination of North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un – despite the firm’s insistence its hand had been forced after cinemas refused to show it.
Mr Obama suggested he might have been able to help, if given the chance. “You know, had they talked to me directly about this decision, I might have called the movie theatre chains and distributors and asked them what that story was,” he said.
For its part, Sony says it spoke to a senior White House adviser before announcing the decision.
White House officials said Sony had discussed cyber-security with them but they were never consulted on the decision to pull the film. “Sometimes this is a matter of setting a tone and being very clear that we’re not going to be intimidated by some cyber-hackers,” Mr Obama said.
“I expect all of us to remember that and operate on that basis going forward.”
The FBI says it has spotted similarities between the type of malware used in the Sony Pictures hack and code used in an attack on South Korea last year.
The US government has reportedly asked China to help block North Korea’s ability to launch cyber-attacks.
China’s co-operation would be essential to any bid to crack down on North Korea’s cyber-warfare operations, as the country’s telecommunications run through Chinese networks.
Whether China will agree to help remains to be seen, as tensions have been high between Washington and Beijing over issues of cyber security.
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