Who really did it? The USA’s Federal Bureau of Investigation says it has strong evidence that it is in fact the DPRK, more commonly known worldwide as North Korea, carried out the cyber-attacks that have left Sony, its officials, actors, top executives and honestly, the world at large, reeling.
Revelations began dropping like hail, and that hail snowballed (in keeping with the season!) into an avalanche. Private e-mail correspondence between the top brass at Sony Pictures was made public, down to every last word of film negotiations, opinions on stars and their tantrums, payment details, employee salaries, target demographics; you name it, and every statistic that could be thought of was available for global public consumption.
The Interview, written and directed by and starring frequent comedy duo James Franco and Seth Rogen, known to make films targeted at a specific demographic, is about a plot to assassinate North Korean despot Kim Jong-Un. Franco and Rogen play journalists instructed by the FBI to book an interview with Jong-Un, following which they are to assassinate him.
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The Kim family, most significantly, Jong-Un’s father and grandfather, Kim Jong-Il and Kim Il-Sung respectively, are revered as gods in their country, with flowers laid at every statue. Entitled ‘Great Leaders’, the family are looked upon as the ultimate authority on any matter within the country.
The film received attention for its negative portrayal of Kim Jong-un. In June 2014, threats of “merciless” action against the United States were made if its distributor, Columbia, went ahead with the film’s release. Columbia delayed the planned October 10, 2014 release to December 25, reportedly to make the film more acceptable to North Korea. In November 2014, the computer systems of parent company Sony Pictures Entertainment were hacked by a group that the FBI believes has ties to North Korea.
The group, calling themselves the GOP or Guardians of Peace, labelled the production a “terrorist film”, demanding that it be withdrawn from theatres with immediate effect, and that their demands, if not met, would result in serious consequences for theatres screening the movie. Following these threats, most theatres withdrew the film from their screens. Sony Pictures itself withdrew the film shortly thereafter, a move criticised widely by members of the film fraternity and Statesmen alike.
President Barack Obama, in an end-of-year press speech, commented on the Sony hacking, and stated that he felt Sony made a mistake in pulling the film, and expressed that producers should “not get into a pattern where you are intimidated by these acts”.
Oddly, however, several claims from technology analysts, programmers and pundits from the USA and abroad aver that the hacking and leak may not have been ordered by the North Korean state, that the language and tools used were not characteristic of the regime. FBI experts, however, aver that the attack was in fact carried out by North Korean actors working on state’s orders.
Cyber-warfare has increasingly been a tool of choice for modern day ‘warfare’. From those fighting for justice – the Anonymous collective, who have previously brought down social media run by the KKK and campaigned for the justice of rape victims in the past – to companies looking to get the upper hand on their competitors by underhand means or find access to corporate secrets, and on the largest scale, nations mounting cyberattacks such as these; on national security agencies or significant industry players.
These attacks are now far more effective than previously thought – it is different from ‘just’ gaining access to national security-related data or accessing raw information related to it. In revealing information of this magnitude – ranging from personal data to emails, bank and social security information, etcetera, firm, employees and several connected industries are dealt a simultaneous, withering blow.
A hack like this could deeply affect a country from the inside out; with enough players involved, the revelation of such information could destabilise a significant portion of the economy, send stock markets flailing worldwide and have immediate ramifications for industry as well. With an economic and business superpower such as the USA, this could have ramifications far more severe and widespread than previously imagined.
The true actors behind these attacks remain to be found out. In the meantime, a retaliatory attack has been launched against North Korea, which has lost access to the internet as of the 22nd of December, 2014. Was revenge a dish served cold, much like kimchi? Investigations are currently ongoing, and Sony Pictures, which placed an embargo on the release of The Interview, has since backpedalled and plans to release it via the internet soon.
A new form of terrorism is spreading rapidly and very effectively. Perhaps, as President Obama has suggested, not bowing to it is the first step in combating cyber-terrorism.
Writer and communications professional by day, musician by night, Anuradha Santhanam is a former social scientist at the LSE. Her writing focuses on human rights, socioeconomics, technology, innovation and space, world politics and culture. A programmer herself, Anuradha has spent the past year studying and researching, among other things, data and technological governance. An amateur astronomer, she is also passionate about motorsport.
More of her writing is available here and she can be found on Twitter at @anumccartney.
(Image credit: The Next Web)