American officials have concluded that North Korea was “centrally involved” in the hacking of Sony Pictures computers, even as the studio canceled the release of a far-fetched comedy about the assassination of the North’s leader that is believed to have led to the cyberattack.
Senior administration officials, who would not speak on the record about the intelligence findings, said the White House was debating whether to publicly accuse North Korea of what amounts to a cyberterrorism attack. Sony capitulated after the hackers threatened additional attacks, perhaps on theaters themselves, if the movie, “The Interview,” was released.
Officials said it was not clear how the White House would respond. Some within the Obama administration argue that the government of Kim Jong-un must be confronted directly. But that raises questions of what actions the administration could credibly threaten, or how much evidence to make public without revealing details of how it determined North Korea’s culpability, including the possible penetration of the North’s computer networks.
Other administration officials said a direct confrontation with the North would provide North Korea with the kind of dispute it covets. Japan, where Sony is an iconic corporate name, has argued that a public accusation could interfere with delicate diplomatic negotiations for the return of Japanese citizens kidnapped years ago.
The government is “considering a range of options in weighing a potential response,” said Bernadette Meehan, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council.
The administration’s sudden urgency came after a new threat was delivered this week to desktop computers at Sony’s offices, warning that if “The Interview” was released on Dec. 25, “the world will be full of fear.”
“Remember the 11th of September 2001,” it said. “We recommend you to keep yourself distant from the places at that time.”