US Official: North Korea Hacked Sony And 'Chinese Actors' May Have Helped

North korea soldiersEd Jones / GettyNorth Korean soldiers.

A U.S. investigation into the hack of Sony’s computer system has determined that North Korea was behind the operation with a possible Chinese link, a U.S. official said on Friday.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the conclusion was to be announced later by federal authorities.

The probe into the hack found North Korea was behind it and that there may be a Chinese link either through collaboration with Chinese actors or by using Chinese servers to mask the origination of the hack, the official said.

As far as US options in response, there are few immediate options, and the best course may be through the Chinese. 

“The only lever that I can see is China,”  Dave Aitel, a former NSA research scientist and CEO of the cybersecurity firm Immunity, told Business Insider in an interview. “And what you may see is that it comes out there were some Chinese resources involves in this, and then pressure them to get on board.”

One option is sanctions against the North Korean regime — which is already heavily sanctioned — but that move would complicate relations with China.

“The Obama administration has been reluctant to embrace ” the sanctions approach, Reuters reports. “The biggest impact would be felt by banks in China, complicating U.S. efforts to curry better ties with Beijing.”

Another option is cyber retaliation, but that risks escalating the cyber war.

One proactive move the US should consider, Aitel told Business Insider earlier this week, is “declaring certain cyberattacks terrorist acts and the groups behind them terrorists,” which would “set in motion a wider range of legal authority, US government/military resources, and international options.” 

In any case, the US will need a new policy when it comes to cyberattacks by state-backed actors.

“This is not something you say ‘President Obama solved this tomorrow,’ Aitel said, noting that “deep down the policy engine of the US is very slow, and this case is very complex and has to do with China as well.”

If China is involved — as opposed to undefined “Chinese actors” — then pressuring Beijing becomes even more difficult.

“You have to a cyber policy [and] you have to get the Chinese on board with your policy,” Aitel said. “We have to have very clear statement about what lines you cannot cross, and what we’re going to do about it.”

The Sony hack — which took place in late November — is the second major attack in which hackers targeted American corporate infrastructure on a large scale with the primary goal of destroying it (as opposed to stealing from it or spying on it). 

Dozens of terabytes of information were taken, and all hell has broken loose in the entertainment world as hackers dumped information online and news organisations scrambled to cover every possible angle.

Here’s a roundup of some of the leaked information:

 (Reuters reporting by Steve Holland)

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