In the days that followed a massive cyber-attack on Sony Studios resulting in the embarrassing release of confidential information which led the studio to capitulate to the hackers’ demands, an unnamed American intelligence official told Reuters that they believed that China had a role in the attack.
That revelation soon fell out of favor when both the FBI and President Barack Obama assigned the sole blame for the attack on North Korea. Recently, however, the online security analysts have begun to reexamine the initial assumption that the DPRK did not possess the capability to pull off this sophisticated attack on their own and that China may also bear some responsibility.
Even if the People’s Republic did not directly aid in the attack, many are coming to the conclusion that the only way to deter future assaults from North Korea is to address Chinese aggression. “The most productive deterrent against further North Korean assaults may be to continue pressing China, where most of the North’s hackers are based,” The New York Times editorial board theorized.
But an intriguing report in The Daily Beast based on information provided by independent security analysts suggests that neither China nor North Korea were responsible for the attack on private American interests.
According to analysts with the security firm Norse Corp., the attack on Sony might have been an inside job.
“The latest evidence, from the cyberanalysis firm the Norse Corp., suggests that a group of six individuals, including at least one disgruntled ex-Sony employee, is behind the assault, which has humiliated Sony executives, led to threats of terrorist attacks over the release of a satirical film, and prompted an official response from the White House,” The Daily Beast’s Shane Harris reported.
But even though the FBI is publicly adamant that the regime of Kim Jong Un is behind the cyberattack, FBI agents met Monday with analysts from Norse, who’ve spent the past few weeks investigating alternative theories, suggesting that the bureau is quietly entertaining other theories in the case.
FBI officials from the bureau’s Los Angeles field office met in Norse’s offices in St. Louis on Monday and listened to the analysts’ argument that the Sony attack was partly an inside job, and that no signs pointed to North Korean involvement, Kurt Stammberger, a senior vice president at Norse, told The Daily Beast. (Other FBI officials joined the discussion via conference call, he said.)
“They basically said thanks a lot and shook our hands and took off,” Stammberger said. “It sounds like from the PR [public relations] perspective they are sticking to their guns.”
“Stammberger said that Norse’s analysis is now pointing toward an attack against Sony by disgruntled employees that was conducted in stages and over the course of several months, beginning as early as July, and that North Korea opportunistically praised the attack only after it was discovered,” the report closed.
If this attack were an inside job, it would make sense. The hacked emails that humiliated the studio’s executives contained flip comments about Hollywood figures and nuanced racial jokes about the president, the significance of which might be lost on the average North Korean cyber warrior. What’s more, as The Daily Beast report suggests, the president and his administration would be embarrassed if their condemnations of Pyongyang turned out to be based on erroneous information.
Right now, it’s just a theory. But it’s a potentially humiliating theory for not merely Sony but for the White House and federal law enforcement as well.