Tag Archives: Sony

Sony Hackers: Was It Really N. Korea? Why Some FBI Folk Doubt It

Originally published at ANewDomain.net:

If you were impressed by how fast the FBI placed the blame for the Sony entertainment hacks on North Korea, you weren’t alone. Internet forensics are notoriously complicated, so this was obviously the result of amazingly efficient detective work, right?

Perhaps not.

A number of security experts doubt the US government’s claim of certainty in their accusation.

“The FBI says the attack came from IP addresses — unique computer addresses — that trace back to North Korea,” NPR reports. But those could be spoofed.

“The fact that data was relayed through IPs associated with North Korea is not a smoking gun,” Scott Petry, a network security analyst with Authentic8, told the network. “There are products today that will route traffic through IP addresses around the world.”

The FBI also points to malware used in the Sony attacks. Strings of that code, the feds say, are identical to those used in previous attacks known to have been carried out by North Korean hackers. Perry says that doesn’t mean anything either. Malware gets recycled by hackers all the time. “It’s like saying, ‘My God, this bank robbery was conducted using a Kalashnikov rifle — it must be the Russians who did it!'”

US government officials told the media that they found communications between the hackers that indicated their language of origin was Korean, and other experts say that conclusion is tentative and premature at best.

“Although it’s possible that these messages were written by people whose native language is Korean, it is far more likely that they were Russians,” said Shlomo Argamon, computer science professor at the Illinois Institute of Technology and chief scientist with Taia Global, after examining the writing style.

Finally, there’s the motive problem, as Wired puts it.

We’ve been told that the hacks were carried out on the order of a petulant dictator out to censor a film that disrespected his majesty, Seth Rogen and James Franco’s assassination comedy “The Interview.” But the demands of the hackers seem to align closer to a financial shakedown. Russians, then? In particular, the demands that Sony “pay proper monetary compensation” or face further attacks, points to someone other than a nation-state. Plus, for what it’s worth, North Korea has angrily denied involvement.

So if it wasn’t North Korea – or more accurately, if the US government isn’t 100% certain that it was North Korea – what are they saying that it was – or more accurately, that they are 100% certain that it was?

Robert Graham, CEO of Errata Security, speculated to Wired that a political hack within the FBI “wanted it to be North Korea so much that they just threw away caution.” Once the Obama administration repeatedly told the media that they knew it was North Korea, that became an official narrative that could never be walked back. “There’s this whole groupthink that happens, and once it becomes the message, it’s really hard to say no it’s not this.”

We have seen government groupthink before.

Within hours after the first plane hit the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, network anchors and US government officials alike were openly jumping to the conclusion that Al Qaeda under the leadership of Osama bin Laden had to be responsible. As with the Sony hacks, what began as pure speculation based on circumstantial evidence – the theatrical nature of the attacks, their simultaneity and so on – soon became an official narrative that no one ever dared question, even when bin Laden denied responsibility (he had, on the other hand, claimed to have been behind the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in East Africa).

There are two parts of the equation here: responsibility and certainty. Who did it? How sure are we?

The FBI appears to be playing fast and loose with the latter question, much in the way that the Bush administration claimed to have been certain that the government of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction during the 2002-2003 run-up to the invasion of that country. The lie was not in claiming that Saddam possessed WMDs. The lie was claiming to be sure.

Bin Laden may well have been the sole financier and leader of the 9/11 plot, just as the North Korean government could be responsible for the Sony hacks. In both cases, however, a rush to judgment in anticipation of the facts may prevent some or all of the truth from ever coming to light. In the 9/11 case, for example, considerable evidence points to Islamic Jihad, a radical organization based in Egypt, as well as Saudi financiers. Pinning the blame exclusively on bin Laden and Al Qaeda let those guilty parties escape investigation, and perhaps punishment.

Similarly, the FBI’s premature passing of blame on the government of President Kim Jong-un could be muddying the waters, thus allowing the actual responsible parties to continue their activities and setting the stage for their next hack attack. Not to mention, is it really a good idea to antagonize a paranoid, nuclear-armed adversary that is already convinced the US intends to invade and occupy it, by falsely accusing them?

It would be nice, though perhaps too much to ask, for the United States government to seek the truth in a calm, deliberative manner. The media can wait after an attack to learn who’s to blame. So can we.

Breaking Modern Essay: Sony Hackers: Hollywood Crossed the Line

Originally published at Breaking Modern:

The as yet unidentified hackers who broke into Sony Entertainment’s incompetently protected servers have provoked a lawsuit filed by former employees angered by the company’s lack of security, a cluster of gossipy news stories about the quality of the next James Bond film and Angelina Jolie’s professional relationships, and a media ethics debate over whether publishing emails, salary information, movie scripts and other leaked material is effectively aiding and abetting the cyber thieves.

Now a New York movie theater has canceled a showing of Sony’s newest movie in response to a terrorist threat issued by the hackers.

What nobody’s talking about seems like the biggest story of all: the possible motivation of the self-styled “Guardians of Peace.”

Suspicion immediately fell upon North Korea due to the hackers’ complaints about an upcoming film, “The Interview,” which stars James Franco and Seth Rogan. “How bitter fate those who seek fun in terror should be doomed to,” one communiqué declared, referring to the movie’s plot, about assassinating North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un.

For what it’s worth, the government of North Korea has officially denied involvement. Seth Rogan believes them. “There’s no way it’s them’ because it seems too savvy of Hollywood politics.”

Regardless of the identity of the hackers, one question worth exploring is: has Hollywood crossed the line?

Political assassination plots are nothing new for American films. Based on the Frederick Forsyth spy novel, the 1973 thriller “The Day of the Jackal” showcased the scheming of a man who tried to kill French president Charles de Gaulle during the 1960s. But the movie came out after de Gaulle had already died of old age.

inglorious-basterdsThe Quentin Tarantino revenge fantasy “Inglorious Basterds” depicts something that plainly didn’t happen, the arson and machine-gun killing of Adolf Hitler in a French movie theater. And anyway, that was Hitler, only the worst guy ever.

“The gory killing of a sitting foreign leader is new territory for a big studio movie,” Jeanine Basinger, professor of film studies at Wesleyan University, told the New York Times.

It’s kind of fascinating that the American press hasn’t been able to put itself in the shoes of North Koreans, enough of whom obviously support their leader to the extent that he continues to enjoy the tacit consent of the governed.

Imagine, if you can, how Americans would respond – even conservative Republicans – if, say, Iran, Russia, or some other political rival of the United States were to produce a motion picture depicting the violent assassination of President Obama. Many Americans would view such a film, even if it was marketed as a comedy as “The Interview” is, as something just short of an act of war.

Here in the United States, threatening the life of the president is a serious felony punishable by up to five years in federal prison. Why wouldn’t we expect other countries to take the threat against their leaders seriously too?

Americans don’t get that the citizens of other countries are just as patriotic as we are. Just like us, people in other nations don’t like it when we disrespect their leaders.

Not long ago, everyone, including the United States government, understood that treating heads of state disrespectfully exposed everyone’s leaders to the same treatment. Under international law and tradition heads of state have been considered immune from prosecution. Even when the US deposed an unfriendly leader in a coup d’état, such as when Jean-Claude Duvalier fled Haiti in 1986, they facilitated his comfortable exile in places like the French Riviera.

It was the United States that broke this understanding between nations.

It began in 1989, with George Herbert Walker Bush’s overthrow of Panamanian President Manuel Noriega. The first Bush administration treated Noriega like a common criminal, trumping up dubious drug possession charges (a “110-pound” stash of cocaine found in his compound turned out to be tamales wrapped in banana leaves), kidnapping him to face charges in the United States on barely discernible legal grounds, and then sentencing him to two decades in a federal prison.

More recently, Bush the second boxed in former US client dictator Saddam Hussein, refusing to fly him out of Iraq, signed off on a ridiculous show trial conducted by his political enemies and then delivered him from U.S. custody to be unceremoniously hanged to death – while cell phone video cameras rolled – in 2006. Saddam went out looking classy – “Down with the invaders!” he shouted repeatedly before his death — the U.S., not so much.

Then there was the 2011 killing of Colonel Moammar Qaddafi. Again, the United States didn’t leave the Libyan dictator a way out. Instead, NATO fighter jets and an American drone bombed his convoy, causing him to fall into the hands of opposition forces, who killed him.

Given this recent history, it isn’t surprising that Americans don’t see the big deal about a silly comedy movie fantasizing about killing a man they see as a silly neo-Stalinist dictator. But isn’t this just another case of American exceptionalism?

We see the world one way.

No one else agrees with us.