Obama warns North over hacking

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Obama warns North over hacking

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U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference at the White House in Washington, D.C., on Friday. [AP/NEWSIS]

In response to North Korea’s cyberattacks on Sony Pictures Entertainment, U.S. President Barack Obama warned that his country will respond “in a place and time and manner that we choose.”

The stern address at a White House briefing on Friday came the same day that the Federal Bureau of Investigation linked the Communist country to the destructive hacking of Sony Pictures.

The hack rendered the company’s computer system inoperable and leaked details from its database, including the personal information of executives and employees.

Obama’s firm resolve to deal with the unfolding event that prompted the movie distributor to cancel the Dec. 25 theatrical release of its film “The Interview” was reflected in his reference to the young leader of North Korea as a “dictator.”

“We cannot have a society in which some dictator someplace can start imposing censorship here in the United States,” said Obama during the briefing, held before he was about to embark on a two-week vacation in Hawaii.

Consolidating his stance on the issue further, Obama noted that giving in to such intimidation and engaging in “self-censorship” so as not to offend the sensitivities of others “is not who we are. That’s not what America is about.”

Should the Obama administration make good on its promise of a “proportional response” for the massive hacking of Sony Pictures, whose parent company is in Japan, it will mark the first time that the U.S. government will have retaliated against such an attack.

The speech on Friday was also the first time for Obama to blame the leader of a foreign country, in this case North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, for a cyberattack.

The FBI said in its report on Friday that it “has enough information to conclude” that Pyongyang was behind the cyberattack, citing “similarities in specific lines of code, encryption algorithms, data deletion methods and comprised networks,” as well as other malware the FBI “knows North Korean actors previously developed.”

The determination Obama showed hinted at an unprecedented retaliation for the scandal that unfolded after the hack on Sony Pictures, which began with leaked emails full of scathing remarks between company executives - including one that called Angelina Jolie a “minimally talented spoiled brat.”

Obama’s strong avowal for a countermeasure against North Korea as the most probable culprit for the attack has cast a shadow over inter-Korean relations at a time when the Park Geun-hye government is expected to push for its first summit with Kim Jong-un next year.

Many members of the ruling and opposition parties have been demanding for the Park administration to seek a breakthrough in Seoul-Pyongyang relations by holding its first summit meeting with the North Korean leader.

Experts say the looming prospect of Washington reinstating Pyongyang on its list of state-sponsored terrorists in the aftermath of the hacking is likely to make matters more complicated for the Park government. It could place a strain on its efforts to improve bilateral relations with the North, they said.

“Because it is a direct Pyongyang-Washington conflict, its aftermath on the inter-Korea relation will be limited by some degree,” said Lee Woo-young, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies.

“But since Seoul’s tuning of North Korean policy requires consultation with Washington, it could have some negative impact [on improving inter-Korea relations].”

Regarding the possibility of the Communist state following through on its threat to attack audiences if the film had been released, the professor said it was highly unlikely because the North knows there would be no benefits from such a provocation.

A day after the severe warning from the White House, North Korea denied responsibility for the cyberattack and proposed a joint investigation with the United States into the incident.

The response was similar to when it was accused of torpedoing the South’s Cheonan warship in March 2010, which left 46 Navy seamen dead.

Pyongyang warned of “grave consequences” against Washington should the United States reject its offer and continue to blame with the regime for the cybertattack.

“The U.S. has to bear in mind that grave consequences will follow if it refuses our joint investigation offer and continues to talk about economic sanctions,” said an unidentified spokesperson at the North’s Foreign Ministry in a statement carried by its mouthpiece, the Korean Central News Agency.

In an apparent rejection of the North’s proposal, a spokesman for the White House Security Council, Mark Stroh, said Saturday that the White House stands by the result of the FBI’s investigation.

“If the North Korean government wants to help, they can admit their culpability and compensate Sony for the damages this attack caused,” Stroh said.

BY KANG JIN-KYU [jkkang2@joongang.co.kr]

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