COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | JOHN PATRICK FORD

Let the cyberwar begin

The eccentric figurehead leader of North Korea is at it again. Not content to rattle his neighbors by firing missiles over the Sea of Japan or secretly testing nuclear devices, Kim Jong Un has shown his ability to hack into any digital system. Is this the start of a cyberwar?

The latest strike was against Sony Picture’s corporate system and distributing confidential data to the world. Along with the devastating attack was the threat to destroy any theater that dared to show “The Interview,” an unreleased film by Sony. How ridiculous.

Sony had scheduled the film release for Christmas Day, and then withdrew the public showing until President Barack Obama and a large number of American patriots refused to be intimated by the rogue North Korean. Even his best friend, China, was irritated. So the film was shown on Christmas at about 300 theatres in the U.S., including only one in San Diego, and was available for Internet streaming. Box office for the first weekend was $18 million.

Why the fuss? Film critics say the goofy comedy is obviously a parody about two American journalists who manage to arrange a personal interview with Kim Jong Un — an unlikely event — but get caught in the web of a CIA assassination attempt — even more unlikely.

It’s too bad those North Koreans can’t recognize a joke and take this film seriously. As one pundit has written, the North Korean hackers will be sorry they have taken on Sony and the wrath of the U.S. government. However, the Communist government hasn’t been able to relate to the Western World since the Korean Peninsula was split in half way back in 1945. It just gets worse in the digital world of today.

The first indication of any retaliation after the hacking of Sony was the brief shutdown of all Internet access to North Korea the week before Christmas. Experts do not know if this was a voluntary action by the North Korean leaders or whether the U.S. government found a way to cut them off. No one is talking about this, it but rather smells of a CIA project, despite the official U.S. denial of any involvement.

There are many experts in the cybersecurity realm who believe that North Korea may not have been the instigator of the Sony hacking. Their position generally is that a disgruntled Sony employee who had been recently fired or whose job had been threatened was the perpetrator of this cyberattack.

The extent of the damage done to Sony is becoming more evident. “They came into the house, stole everything, then burned down the house,” said CEO Michael Lynton. It has been six weeks and much of the Sony system is still not operative.

The situation on the original hacking and later the shutdown of the Internet system in North Korea has evolved into much finger pointing. As of now, the answers to both issues are unsolved, creating an international whodunit lasting almost a month.

The latest action taken by the U.S. government was President Obama’s announcement that further sanctions against North Korea would be imposed. This seemed a hollow threat because we already have so many sanctions that there is little interchange in trade or communication with the Communist regime. Observers believe that the new sanctions were intended to encourage other nations to extend their sanctions against North Korea.

In an effort to placate any backlash from the free-world powers, North Korea has proposed a joint investigation with the United States into the hacking attack. If Washington rejects such a probe, the Koreans warn of “serious consequences” by claiming that an investigation will prove that Pyongyang had nothing to do with the cyberattack, the Associated Press reported.

Despite the FBI’s conclusions that the North Korean government is responsible for this destructive attack, there is little the United States can do to retaliate. We already have severe trade sanctions in place, and there is no appetite for any military action.

This past year has been an active time for Kim Jong Un to draw attention to his country and his condemnation of the Western world. The Korean leader was missing from public events for more than six weeks in the fall, arousing suspicion of a palace revolt. Apparently when Kim finally reemerged, it was attributable to a possible surgery on his ankle as he was seen walking on crutches.

Another headline event spread suspicion that Kim was under pressure to secure his leadership post. His uncle was executed by the government, supposedly for leading a rebellious action against his nephew.

Whatever the outcome will be, it is obvious that North Korea will stay in the headlines and will probably provoke more sanctions from other nations, especially China. It may be the beginning of the world’s first cyberwar.


Ford is a freelance writer in San Diego. He can be reached at johnpatrick.ford@sddt.com.

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