If you had any doubt that America would respond forcefully to the cyber-attack on Sony Studios, which the FBI has accused North Korea of orchestrating, those doubts were confirmed on Monday.
“The United States on Monday urged North Korea to admit it ordered a cyber-attack on the Hollywood studio Sony Pictures and to pay for the damage it had caused,” read an AFP reporr. “’If they want to help here they could admit their culpability and compensate Sony,’ deputy State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters.”
This is infuriating on a variety of levels. It’s hard to think of a more complete admission of impotence than pleading with the executors of a terrorist attack on American private interests to financially compensate its intended victims. What happens when the North Koreans reject this request, as they will, and add that they had nothing to do with the cyber-assault and subsequent ultimatums against Sony? Nothing.
Americas’ coveted “soft power” ebbs a little bit more every time a U.S. official squeaks helplessly in the general direction of an enemy nation.
As I wrote yesterday, it’s evident that the administration does not know how to handle a North Korean cyber-attack on private American citizens. In fact, it’s not entirely clear that even the Pentagon has a policy in place for this kind of eventuality, although they have a clear deterrent strategy in place designed to dissuade states from attacking critical infrastructure systems like the nation’s power grid: The credible threat of a response with disproportionate, kinetic force.
America’s perpetual sub rosa cyber war with not just North Korea but China and Russia, too, has remained largely clandestine as a likely result of America’s threat physical force in response to a cyber-terror escalation. But the DPRK, in possible conjunction with its allies in Beijing, have just raised the stakes and America is obliged to respond in kind.
In fairness, America’s “proportional” response to North Korean cyber aggression may be underway, and it apparently consists of offensives that extend beyond the diplomatic variety.
“The internet connectivity between North Korea and the rest of the world has been spotty for at least the last 24 hours, the blog North Korea Tech reported,” according to BuzzFeed.
One “proportional response” could be a “hack back,” in which the United States would attack the hackers’ computers in an attempt to destroy North Korea’s digital infrastructure or compromise the machines that were responsible for the hacking, Tom Kellermann, a former member of the presidential commission on cybersecurity, told the New York Times.
China could also potentially have a hand in North Korea’s internet outage. After President Obama vowed to make North Korea pay for the hack on Sony and warn against future acts of “cybervandalism,” the U.S. reached out to China to ask for help blocking North Korea’s attack, The Times reported.
As of Saturday, the Chinese government had not responded to the request of the Obama administration. China’s cooperation would be critical, since North Korea’s internet access is wired through China, giving the nation control over North Korea’s ability to digitally access the outside world.
If America and the West are responding to North Korean aggression uncompromisingly, it is a welcome development. This approach is, however, still unlikely to dissuade authorities in Pyongyang from engaging in future cyber assaults on Western interests.
Given the scale of the successes North Korea enjoyed in the wake of its attack on Sony, it has ample incentive to attempt similar attacks. Cutting off the internet for a few hours to a country that limits its citizens’ access to the internet in the first place is unlikely to present a credible deterrent threat.