Did North Korea Hack Sony Pictures' Corporate Computer Network?


Sony Pictures Entertainment

A massive computer hack took down the entire computer network of Sony Pictures Entertainment, one of the world's biggest movie companies, last week, forcing employees to ditch their computers for pen, paper, and phones.

Several upcoming films produced by the studio have already been released online in high quality, along with reams of corporate data, including salary information, social security numbers for thousands of employees, and anonymized complaints about the company's movies from its own employees, who, it seems, really don't like Adam Sandler films.

Who's behind this massive digital intrusion? Initial reports suggest that the culprit could be North Korea, and that the hack could be retaliation for Sony's upcoming movie The Interview, which stars Seth Rogen and James Franco as journalists secretly tasked with assassinating North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un. North Korea, which has complained loudly about the movie, has issued a denial that it is responsible for the attack. But it remains a "principal suspect," though not the only one, according to Reuters, which reports that the tools used in the hack closely resembled tools previously used by North Korea to attack South Korea.

This is one of the largest—maybe the single largest—corporate hacks in history, at least that we know about, and if it's true that North Korea is involved, then it represents a disturbing new precedent in international cyber-squabbling. (Judge for yourself if that represents an acceptable use of the prefix "cyber.") At the same time, though, I think it would also suggest the pathetic smallness of North Korea—expending resources to attack a movie studio because it felt insulted by the plot of a James Franco comedy. That's not exactly the sign of a confident, big-league player on the international scene. I don't mean to diminish the effect this attack has had on Sony; for the studio, it's borderline catastrophic. But if North Korea really is behind this, then it also highlights how petty and fragile the nation's sense of itself really is.