Sony Hack Attack: US Official Dismisses Conspiracy Theories Exonerating North Korea

“Cybersecurity firms don’t have access to the same classified information as we do,” senior administration official says

Kim Jong-un, Barack Obama, Sony Pictures Entertain (Courtesy of Linda Ge)

The U.S. government continued to implicate North Korea in the vicious hacks against Sony Pictures Entertainment on Friday, just hours after President Barack Obama brought new sanctions against the country and its totalitarian regime.

One senior administration official took a shot at cybersecurity firms offering up alternative theories, suggesting the firms had arrived at different conclusions because they lacked access to classified information that might be informing the federal investigators.

“We’re standing by our assessment — the FBI, [U.S. government], intelligence community, DHS, private industry — all of us. Cybersecurity firms don’t have access to the same classified information as we do,” a senior administration official told TheWrap on Friday.

The FBI first named North Korean as the masterminds behind the cyberattack on Dec. 19, but several security experts remain unconvinced of the country’s involvement. The senior official pointed out that these sorts of attributions from the U.S. government are unusual, but necessary because of the nature of the attack.

“We stand behind our claim, but are open to all [information] from cybersecurity firms,” the individual added. “We don’t normally take this step and do attribution, but we only do it here because of the destructive and coercive nature of the attack that we really do see as crossing a threshold.”

As TheWrap previously reported, President Obama signed a new Executive Order on Friday authorizing new sanctions against the Government of North Korea and the Workers’ Party of Korea.

The country and its ruling entities are being punished for “numerous provocations, particularly the recent cyberattack targeting Sony Pictures Entertainment and the threats against movie theaters and moviegoers,” according to a statement from the Department of Treasury.

The sanctions target three organizations: the Reconnaissance General Bureau (RGB), North Korea’s primary intelligence organization, Korea Mining Development Trading Corporation (KOMID), North Korea’s primary arms dealer, and Korea Tangun Trading Corporation, which is “primarily responsible for the procurement of commodities and technologies to support North Korea’s defense research and development programs.”

Furthermore, 10 individual officials of the North Korean government were listed in the executive order. But the senior administration official made a point to say the individuals named were not necessarily involved with the hacking of and threats against Sony Pictures.

The sanctions come after Obama promised the U.S. would levy a “proportional response” after the FBI officially concluded North Korea was responsible for the Sony hack attack which led to terabytes of private company data being leaked online, forcing the studio to pull Seth RogenJames Franco comedy “The Interview” from theaters after a threat of physical violence.

North Korea experienced internet outages after the U.S. government implicated them in the attack on Sony, but when asked whether that was actually the first step in the “proportional response” the senior official declined to comment on the U.S.’s possible involvement.

“We are not going to get into or comment on anything that may or may not be happening in terms of covert action, or behind the scenes, but you should see [these sanctions] as what [they are] – the first step in our proportional response,” the individual added.