Was this a question? CNN must have asked it, but at least until now everyone had blamed Sony and theater owners for caving into a high-stakes form of extortion. For the record, the White House denied having any role in Sony’s decision to stop the release of the $44 million dust-magnet, The Interview:
CNN raises a better question: do we call this terrorism, economic warfare, or extortion? We’ll get back to that in a moment. The White House certainly has assumed a central role in public relations after the attack, but conflicting reports call into question the initial conclusion that it was North Korea who engineered the hack. CBS News’ sources say that Pyongyang quarterbacked it, but ran it through a number of fronts to hide its origin:
Sources tell CBS News the sophisticated and damaging cyberattack against Sony Pictures originated in North Korea and flowed through a vast array of computer servers in other countries in an attempt to hide its origin.
Senior administration officials said Iran is another suspect, though others may have been involved, reports CBS News correspondent Major Garrett. Evidence is still being sifted.
But wait, say intel sources talking to Fox’s Catherine Herridge. North Korea may have been involved in the hack, but the attack was too sophisticated for the Kim regime. The specific tools used have been used by other, more sophisticated agencies of Iran, Russia, and China — and the initial demands from the hackers had nothing to do with The Interview:
The U.S. investigation into the recent hacking attack at Sony Pictures Entertainment has turned up evidence that does not point to North Korea as the “sole entity” in the case, but rather, raises the possibility that Iran, China or Russia may have been involved, an intelligence source told Fox News on Thursday.
Earlier Thursday, Fox News confirmed that the FBI is pointing a digital finger at North Korea for the attack.
The source pointed to the sophistication of malware “modules or packets” that destroyed the Sony systems — on a level that has not been seen from North Korea in the past — but has been seen from Iran, China and Russia.
There is no evidence of a forced entry into the Sony systems, pointing to an insider threat or stolen credentials. And the first emails sent to Sony, described as blackmail or extortion, included demands unrelated to the movie.
Overall, this seems to qualify as terrorism, economic warfare, and extortion all at the same time. The terrorism piece was obvious in the threat made to theater owners for showing the film, to which the cinema chains caved. The extortion is equally obvious. The economic warfare piece might be a little harder to grasp, but it’s very much a possibility — especially since the US and its allies are waging economic warfare against three of the main suspects: Iran, Russia, and North Korea, with sanctions for various reasons. This could easily be a retaliation on another front, by one of the nations or an alliance between them. Although Sony is a Japanese firm rather than an American company, the attack hit its US subsidiary hardest and with the most public impact.
If that’s the case, then US firms of all kinds had better batten down the hatches, because we may well be in the middle of a techological/economic war that will not stop at vulgarian comedies at the cinema.