A black comedy

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A black comedy

There is strong suspicion, but no real evidence, about who is responsible for the cyberattacks on Sony Pictures. Just in time for Christmas, Sony was to release a film that dared to insult what North Korea called its “highest dignity.”

The North had a clear motive, but there is no evidence to support the allegation. Yet the FBI confirmed 25 days after the hacking that it had traced it back to Pyongyang. U.S. President Barack Obama said his country will respond “proportionally” to the attack, and the U.S. government is reviewing a plan to add North Korea to its list of state sponsors of terrorism.

In late November, a hacking group called the Guardians of Peace attacked Sony Pictures Entertainment, resulting in its internal network failing. The personal information of about 47,000 Hollywood celebrities, as well as former and current Sony employees, was leaked. Copies of five unreleased Sony films were obtained and distributed. Amy Pascal, Sony’s co-chairwoman, was put in an awkward spot after an email was exposed in which she called Angelina Jolie “a minimally talented spoiled brat.” Moreover, fake names used by celebrities to secretly book hotels were revealed. The cyber bomb on Sony Pictures turned Hollywood upside down.

In the end, Sony surrendered and canceled the release of “The Interview,” a comedy in which a journalist and a producer receive the chance to have an interview with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and are instructed by the CIA to assassinate him. Sony explained that due to terror threats on theaters, major cinema chains pulled out.

Sony’s decision was based on a fear of greater consequences if it pushed for theatrical release. After being criticized for giving in to the threat and giving up its freedom of speech, it claimed it was considering alternative release plans. But it is still unknown if it will be. The cancellation cost Sony $44 million in production costs and $35 million in marketing. The total damage could reach hundreds of millions, taking into account potential sales revenues, the cost of restoring the computer system, compensation for the personal information leak and other legal expenses.

If the North Korean government was really behind the attack, Pyongyang has hit the United States with a blow. Rather than using a real nuclear weapon, it has thrown a powerful punch without spending much money or leaving any trace. Of course, North Korea denies responsibility and demands a “joint investigation” with the United States into the Sony attacks.

The result of the FBI investigation does not contain the word “evidence” at all. Instead, it claims to have “enough information to conclude that the North Korean government is responsible” based on analysis of malware involved in previous attacks, including “similarities in specific lines of code, encryption algorithms, data deletion methods, and compromised networks.” So it is rather ambiguous to say that North Korea is completely responsible or clear it of the suspicion altogether.

It is not easy to find evidence of cyberattacks. The background for previous cyberattacks between countries have not been clarified in most cases. It is the first time that the United States has named a certain country as the mastermind behind a hack. President Obama defined the Sony cyberattack as a matter of national security and pledged to respond. It was a direct attack on the Hollywood movie industry, which the United States takes pride in, and the constitutional value of freedom of speech has been undermined. Giving in to the threat would set also precedence for future attacks.

However, calling North Korea responsible based on circumstantial evidence without proof is like punishing a suspect based on unproven charges. It is not something the United States does. A New York Times opinion piece proposed an independent investigation by an international team. For the sinking of the Cheonan warship, Korea formed an international team to probe the case. North Korea’s demand for a joint investigation does not make sense. It is like having a suspect participate in the investigation.

The day Sony decided to cancel the film, the United States made the historic announcement that it would restore full relations with Cuba after 53 years. Cuba is different from North Korea because it has no nuclear weapons or long-range missiles. But the same lesson, that sanctions and pressure cannot promote mutual interest, should also be applied to North Korea. The United States should show the wisdom and prudence of a great nation to calmly assess the situation and reach a solution. The crisis ignited by a B movie is a real-life comedy. We shouldn’t give up the hope that North Korea could become the next partner.
JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 23, Page 39

*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Bae Myung-bok

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