U.S. officials’ conclusion that Pyongyang was behind the hacking attack on Sony Pictures has raised the difficult question of how Washington should respond to an aggressive act by a foreign government.
Within the U.S. government, there has been an internal debate in recent days about when and how to reveal that belief publicly, because doing so could complicate relations with allies, especially Japan.
U.S. officials are still gathering evidence and are trying to build a clearer picture of who directed the hacking and how.
Investigators strongly suspect the attack was carried out by a North Korean government hacking team known as Unit 121 in the General Bureau of Reconnaissance, people briefed on the matter said. That team has previously been linked to other cyberattacks against South Korean targets.
The Sony hack raises a perplexing question for U.S. security officials—how to respond to a foreign government suspected of hacking an American company to embarrass them. While the Sony hack has also raised public safety and economic issues, it isn’t the type of scenario envisioned by many security officials, who worry about the hacking of critical infrastructure systems.
The U.S. rarely fingers other nations of conducting cyberattacks in the U.S., even when it has strong suspicions. One exception came this May when the Justice Department indicted five Chinese military officers, alleging they hacked U.S. companies’ computers to steal trade secrets.