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FBI: North Korea Behind Sony Hack, Cyber Threat

Workers remove a billboard for the cancelled film "The Interview" in Hollywood, California on Thursday. (Veronique Dupont/AFP)

Workers remove a billboard for the cancelled film “The Interview” in Hollywood, California on Thursday. (Veronique Dupont/AFP)

The US Federal Bureau of Investigation on Friday formally accused the North Korean government of the computer hack against Sony Pictures Entertainment that led the company to cancel the release of the film “The Interview.”

“North Korea’s actions were intended to inflict significant harm on a US business and suppress the right of American citizens to express themselves,” the FBI said in a statement. “Such acts of intimidation fall outside the bounds of acceptable state behavior.”

The cyber attack against SPE, which was carried out by an individual or group called “Guardians of Peace,” destroyed systems and stole large quantities of personal and commercial data.

“The FBI has determined that the intrusion into SPE’s network consisted of the deployment of destructive malware and the theft of proprietary information as well as employees’ personally identifiable information and confidential communications,” the statement said. “The attacks also rendered thousands of SPE’s computers inoperable, forced SPE to take its entire computer network offline, and significantly disrupted the company’s business operations.”

The FBI noted the technical similarities, including “specific lines of code, encryption algorithms, data deletion methods, and compromised networks” between the SPE hack and past “malicious cyber activity” attributed to the reclusive communist regime in Pyongyang.

US officials said privately throughout the week that they suspected North Korea of the cyber attack. South Korean officials blamed the hacks on Bureau 121, an elite cyberwarfare division of the North Korean Reconnaissance Bureau, which made headlines on Friday after it was revealed it had sent commando units to infiltrate the United States and attack major cities and nuclear power plants in the 1990s in the event of hostilities between the two nations.

The Interview, a political action comedy directed by Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen, stars Rogen and James Franco as American journalists sent on a mission to assassinate North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un (played by Randall Park) after booking an interview with him.

In July, a North Korean diplomat told the United Nations that the film “should be regarded as the most undisguised sponsoring of terrorism as well as an act of war.”

Then came the hacks. Beginning on November 24, “Guardians of Peace” hackers stole and released internal emails, many of them embarrassing for top Sony executives (including a series of communications between studio co-chair Amy Pascal and producer Scott Rudin), as well as several future SPE films and employee records.

North Korea denied responsibility for those hacks. But on December 16, the hackers issued an ominous warning to moviegoers, threatening to attack the film’s New York premier and telling Americans to “remember the 11th of September 2001.”

SPE then took the unprecedented step on Wednesday of canceling the film’s release, which was scheduled for Christmas. The nation’s largest cinema chains, including AMC Entertainment, Regal Cinemas, Cineplex and Cinemark, had also opted to cancel the film in the wake of the threats.

Sony issued a statement in which it said the company is “the victim of an unprecedented criminal assault against our employees, our customers, and our business.”

“Those who attacked us stole our intellectual property, private emails, and sensitive and proprietary material, and sought to destroy our spirit and our morale,” the company said.

“We stand by our filmmakers and their right to free expression and are extremely disappointed by this outcome,” the statement added.

Some theaters defiantly vowed to screen Team America: World Police, a satirical action-comedy in which former North Korean leader Kim Jong-il is portrayed in marionette form as a petulant madman who supplies international terrorists with weapons of mass destruction. The dictator is killed at the end of the film and revealed to be an extraterrestrial cockroach.

Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Austin, Texas led the way in scheduling showings of Team America after The Interview was canceled, but Paramount Pictures has ordered theaters not to show the film.

When Team America was released in 2004, North Korea demanded that the Czech Republic ban the film.

“Obviously, it’s absurd to demand that in a democratic country,” the Czech foreign ministry shot back.

Many leading Hollywood celebrities voiced their outrage at what they perceive as American capitulation to a new terrorist threat.

“I think it is disgraceful that these theaters are not showing The Interview,” tweeted producer, director and actor Judd Apatow. “Will they pull any movie that gets an anonymous threat now?”

“I agree wholeheartedly,” late night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel tweeted back. “An un-American act of cowardice that validates terrorist actions and sets a terrifying precedent.”

Conservative politicians and pundits also lashed out at SPE and the Obama administration for what they claim is a surrender to terrorism.

Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, blasted SPE’s decision as “capitulation.”

“Once you capitulate to one dictator, does that mean that the next dictator or the next terrorist that says you’re not going to make a comedy… about ISIS,” Royce told CNN.

“No one should kid themselves,” tweeted former House speaker and GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich. “With the Sony collapse America has lost its first cyberwar. This is a very very dangerous precedent.” Gingrich also called Paramount’s decision to block screenings of Team America“stunning act of cowardice.”

President Obama weighed in on the issue on Friday, saying he believes Sony “made a mistake” by canceling The Interview.

“Sony is a corporation. It suffered significant damage. There were threats against its employees. I’m sympathetic to the concerns that they faced,” Obama said. “Having said all that, yes I think they made a mistake.”

“We cannot have a society in which some dictator in some place can start imposing censorship in the United States,” the president added.

On Thursday, the White House said the United States would consider a “proportional response” if it decisively determined that North Korea is responsible for the cyber attack.

The Department of Homeland Security said it will “continue to adjust its security posture, as appropriate, to protect the American people. “

“This includes continued, regular information sharing with our state, local, federal and international partners [and] builds on ongoing work such as enhanced protection at federal facilities,” a DHS official told Fox News.

As for the hackers who attacked SPE, they sent the company an email praising the studio’s decision to pull The Interview.

“Very wise to cancel The Interview it will be very useful for you,” the email read. “We ensure the purity of your data and as long as you make no more trouble.”

“Now we want you never let the movie released, distributed or leaked in any form of, for instance, DVD or piracy,” the hackers added, although that task will prove difficult to accomplish.

Appearing on The Daily Show Thursday night, comedian Chris Rock told host Jon Stewart that “you can buy it on 125th Street right now,” a reference to the pirated copies of movies and music available on New York City streets.

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