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Did North Korea Get the Last Laugh Against Sony?

By Richard Adhikari
Dec 2, 2014 12:01 PM PT

Upwards of 1.2 million people have used pirate sites to download Brad Pitt's World War II drama Fury, scheduled for release Dec. 25, according to Variety.

Did North Korea Get the Last Laugh Against Sony?

That was one of five films hackers leaked onto the Web following an attack on Sony Pictures' network last week.

The others are Annie, Still Alice, Mr. Turner and To Write Love on Her Arms.

Sony has called in the FBI and other law enforcement agencies.

And in Other News...

Coincidentally -- or perhaps not -- the FBI on Monday warned U.S. businesses that hackers recently penetrated several companies' networks with a particularly damaging form of malware, according to a Reuters report.

Sony apparently was neither identified nor excluded as one of the businesses victimized by the malware, but speculation is rife that the hack attack on the company and the FBI's warning are linked.

Among other capabilities, the malware can override hard drives, shutting down and permanently disabling computers and rendering files inaccessible, the FBI reportedly said in its alert.

The Great Dictator?

It's also rumored that the hack was launched by North Korea, which has been outraged by a forthcoming Sony Pictures comedy, The Interview, depicting the CIA arranging the assassination of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un by two bumbling celebrity journalists.

However, that too is speculative, said Mark Skilton, a professor of information systems management at the University of Warwick, who suggested the attackers could have been motivated by objections to corporatism.

"I think the FBI's involvement perhaps [points more to] criminal investigations rather than sovereignty issues," Skilton told TechNewsWorld.

Yo Ho Ho and a Bottle of Rum!

A group calling itself "Guardians of Peace" reportedly has claimed responsibility for the hack of the Sony Pictures internal network, launched Nov. 24.

Digital copies of the leaked movies began appearing online on Nov. 27, and a person claiming to be "the boss of GOP" reportedly emailed journalists with links to what was claimed to be stolen internal data.

The leak is believed to be connected to the hack.

The attack is ransomware, but "we've not seen a whole organization locked out of their systems for ransom before," Jonathan Sander, strategy and research officer for Stealthbits Technologies, told TechNewsWorld.

This incident "may be setting a precedent for many hackers -- and victims -- in the future," he warned. "If this can be done to [Sony], what about the multitude of smaller shops that have valuable data and enough money to be interesting for ransom?"

Security Is a Stranger

Hackers in 2011 stole data from 77 million PlayStation Network accounts, forcing Sony to take the service down for 24 days.

The Sony PlayStation and Sony Entertainment networks this August were taken down by a group calling itself the "Lizard Squad." The group also forced the diversion of a flight Sony Entertainment Online President John Smedley was on by falsely tweeting that there was a bomb on board.

Sony restored its networks, apologized to customers, and called in the FBI. It said there was no evidence of any intrusion into its network, and nothing was stolen.

Last month, DerpTrolling released what was claimed to be a file of customer logins across the PlayStation Network, 2K Games, and Windows Live. However, media reports later said the leak may have been faked in various ways.

The latest hack is "a perfect example of sloppy IT security and a CISO that did not implement proper privileged identity management, or a disaster recovery backup plan for continuity of business," Philip Lieberman, president of Lieberman Software, told TechNewsWorld. "They will be looking for a new CIO and CISO, as this team was unable to even do the basics of their job -- ensure security and business continuity."

The Seeds of Evil

Security experts suggested, when discussing the August attack with TechNewsWorld, that perhaps the hackers had planted sleeper malware that would lie dormant until it was triggered to act.

They pointed to the Backoff point-of-sale malware, which targeted retailers, as an example.

It's possible, said Skilton, that the latest hack was conducted through dormant malware.


Richard Adhikari has written about high-tech for leading industry publications since the 1990s and wonders where it's all leading to. Will implanted RFID chips in humans be the Mark of the Beast? Will nanotech solve our coming food crisis? Does Sturgeon's Law still hold true? You can connect with Richard on Google+.


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