SEOUL – Say you’re the dictator of the most closed state on earth, used to being revered as a god, and a bunch of Americans make a movie in which they attempt to assassinate you.
How do you get revenge? Well, the usual old fireworks – missiles and maybe a nuke test – won’t be much noticed by those Hollywood types. You’ve got to hit them where it hurts.
Well, North Korea – apparently – made Sony Pictures double over as it prepares to release "The Interview," the comedy in which James Franco and Seth Rogen play two journalists who land a rare interview with Kim Jong Un and are recruited by the CIA to take him out. The movie is due to be released in the U.S. on Dec. 25.
When news of the film emerged in June, North Korea vowed "merciless counter-measures" if it were released. It appears to have made good on that promise with a devastating cyber attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment, knocking out the studio's computer network on Nov. 24.
Attackers operating under the name “Guardians of Peace” left a picture of a red skull and the phrase "Hacked By #GOP" on the computers screens of Sony employees on the Monday before Thanksgiving.
The message threatened to release sensitive data supposedly stolen from Sony servers if certain demands were not met, the technology Web site Re/code reported.
Sony was exploring the possibility that hackers working on behalf of North Korea, perhaps operating out of China, might be behind the attack, Re/code reported, citing sources familiar with the matter.
Sony wouldn’t comment on the possible North Korea connection. But a spokesperson said: "The theft of Sony Pictures Entertainment content is a criminal matter, and we are working closely with law enforcement to address it."
The word from North Korea had the cliffhanger quality of a good Hollywood trailer. "Hostile forces" are casting blame on North Korea, said a spokesman for the country's mission at the United Nations, according to the Reuters news agency. "I kindly advise you to just wait and see."
Some of Sony's systems were understood to have been restored on Sunday, and e-mail was due to be back up and running Monday.
The Wrap, a Hollywood news site, reported that at least five new movies from Sony Pictures were posted to copyright-infringing file-sharing hubs online soon after the attack. They included the musical “Annie” and the Brad Pitt World War II movie “Fury.” However, it said that there was no proof that the films’ postings are related to the hack.
Although no one but the most elite of the elite has access to the Internet in North Korea, the Kim regime has been building quite a cyber army and it has a record when it comes to devastating cyber attacks.
Pyongyang was blamed for a massive hack on South Korean sites – including government, media and banking sites – last year that coincided with the anniversary of the start of the Korean War.
Separately, the Wall Street Journal reported that “The Interview” will not be released in South Korea. Local media reports cite a Sony Pictures Korea official as saying the distributor never had plans to release the film there due to concerns about inter-Korean relations.
Luckily for interested South Koreans, there are lots of people south of the border who are also pretty good when it comes to technology.
An earlier version of this post misspelled Seth Rogen's name. It has been corrected.