USA punishes N. Korean officials over Sony hack

By Alejandro Freixes, CCNN Head Writer

The Interview
James Franco (left) and Seth Rogen (right) on a mission to take down Kim Jong-un.

On December 17, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) confirmed that North Korea was responsible for a major cyber attack on Sony Pictures, and government officials promised that the USA would strike back. Then, North Korea’s entire internet was mysteriously knocked offline during Christmas week. Now, the USA has slapped new sanctions (economic restrictions) on leaders in North Korea, in the first stage of an official response.

This summer, actors Seth Rogen and James Franco hyped The Interview, a Sony Pictures movie where they play journalists hired to assassinate North Korea’s dictator, Kim Jong-un.

In late November, hackers from “Lizard Squad” and “Guardians of Peace” (GOP) started going after Sony in one of the worst cyber attacks ever. Hackers demanded that The Interview not be released and they even threatened movie theaters, causing Sony to cancel their action-comedy. However, after the public rallied, several theaters offered to release The Interview on Christmas Day and Sony made it available for download as well.

Not only did hackers leak the private numbers of celebrities and the code names they use to make reservations at hotels, they also invaded the private e-mails and personal information belonging to hundreds of Sony employees. Everything from online trash-talking between co-workers to downloadable versions of unreleased movies like Annie are available for the public to see. Cyber attacks also hit the Playstation Network, interrupting online features for PS3 and PS4 gamers during the holidays.

North Korea
A North Korean soldier points to the “Demilitarized Zone” that divides the North and South.

Cyber warfare experts point out that this is a historic hacker attack, because North Korea was able to limit the USA’s freedom of speech by scaring its artists and businesses.

Americans expressed their outrage on social media following the initial cancellation of The Interview, which is something that North Korea’s own citizens would never be able to do. They’re heavily suppressed by Kim Jong-un’s government, with majorly restricted access to media and information from the outside world. North Koreans are even punished for publicly expressing opinions that contradict or criticize the government.

North Korea is infamous for threatening military action against South Korea, ever since the country was divided into two halves during the Cold War between the USA and Soviet Russia.

The difficulties between the two regions blew up into the Korean War in 1950, where the USA came to the aid of its South Korean ally, and ended with a shaky truce in 1953. Kim Jong-un first rose to power following the death of his father, Kim Jong-il, in 2011.

When North Korea’s internet was taken down this week, it wasn’t entirely certain who was responsible. A spokeswoman for the USA’s State Department merely said, “We aren’t going to discuss – you know – publicly, operational details about the possible response options or comment on those kind of reports in any way, except to say that as we implement our responses, some will be seen, some may not be seen.” In other words, maybe it was the USA and maybe it wasn’t. One thing you can definitely count on is more cyber warfare in the coming years.

Featured image courtesy of modified Surian Soosay art and Tecnomovida Caracas on Flickr. Image of movie poster courtesy of The Interview Facebook. Image of DMZ map courtesy of Kristoferb on Wikipedia.