The North Korean government is responsible for the massive hacking attack against Sony, the FBI said Friday. The news came on the heels of another emailed threat received by the studio's executives warning of further attacks unless Sony removed all mentions of "The Interview," a comedy focused on the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
The message, which has not been authenticated, was sent to Sony Pictures Entertainment (SPE) on Thursday night and demanded that the studio completely suspend the movie's release in any form and remove all evidence of its existence, including movie trailers, which have already been in wide distribution. It said doing so would be the only way to prevent further cyber disruption.
“We cannot have a society in which some dictator some place can start imposing censorship here in the United States,” President Barack Obama said Friday at a White House press conference. “Because if somebody is able to intimidate folks out of releasing a satirical movie, imagine what they start doing when they start seeing a documentary they don’t like or news reports they don’t like." He said that the U.S. would respond to the attack, but declined to detail a specific plan.
"We are deeply concerned about the destructive nature of this attack on a private sector entity and the ordinary citizens who worked there," the FBI said in a statement. It continued: "North Korea's attack on SPE reaffirms that cyber threats pose one of the gravest national security dangers to the United States. Though the FBI has seen a wide variety and increasing number of cyber intrusions, the destructive nature of this attack, coupled with its coercive nature, sets it apart. North Korea's actions were intended to inflict significant harm on a U.S. business and suppress the right of American citizens to express themselves."
Government sources first said on Wednesday that they suspected that the massive security breach had connections to the isolated totalitarian regime. Sony pulled the "The Interview," which was previously set to be released by Sony on Dec. 25 and stars Seth Rogan and James Franco, after a shadowy hacker group calling itself "Guardians of Peace" threatened violence against theaters screening the film.
Obama added that he wished the company had consulted him before pulling the film. “Sony is a corporation, it suffered significant damage, threats against employees, sympathetic to concerns they faced,” he said. “That said, I think they made a mistake.”
The FBI statement pointed to similarities between the malware used in the Sony attack with "specific lines of code, encryption algorithms, data deletion methods, and compromised networks" known to be from North Korea sources. The agency also said that infrastructure clues, such as IP addresses, pointed to the country's involvement, and added that the Sony attack bore similarities to an attack by North Korea on South Korean banks and media in March of 2013.
"Every CEO should take this opportunity to assess their company's cybersecurity," Johnson added. "Every business in this country should seek to employ best practices in cybersecurity. The Department of Homeland Security and other federal agencies are here to help."
Sony first reported earlier this month a massive security breach that resulted in a data dump of personal emails between top executives. The hacked information included employee's medical records and social security numbers, as well as embarrassing industry sniping and controversial comments. The hacker group went on to issue violent threats, resulting in five of the biggest theater chains in America deciding not to show the film.
“In light of the decision by the majority of our exhibitors not to show the film ‘The Interview,’ we have decided not to move forward with the planned December 25 theatrical release. We respect and understand our partners’ decision and, of course, completely share their paramount interest in the safety of employees and theater-goers,” Sony said in a statement to NBC News.
Sony's decision not to screen the film, as well as news that New Regency was canceling production of a thriller tentatively titled "Pyongyang" and set to star Steve Carell, drew outrage from many celebrities.
“I think it says something interesting about North Korea that they decided to have the state mount an all-out assault on a movie studio because of a satirical movie starring Seth Rogen and James [Franco]," Obama said on Friday. "I love Seth, and I love James, but the notion it was a threat to them gives you some idea of the kind of threat we’re dealing with.”