Tags: Bennett | Sony | hack | North Korea

Plot Thickens in Sony Hacking Case

By    |   Monday, 08 December 2014 10:18 AM

Further developments are likely to occur in real time in the story of the alleged hacking of Sony's intellectual property, possibly by state-sponsored actors who gained access to Sony Pictures' virtual vault during Thanksgiving week. New information that has come to light may or may not affect Sony stock as investors digest it.

Cory Bennett, Cybersecurity Reporter for The Hill, appeared on C-SPAN's Washington Journal on Dec. 7 to talk about the Sony case with the famous host Steve Scully, who asked Bennett how big the breach was and how it could happen. Bennett responded that it was the largest cyber breach of a private company, 11 terabytes of data, which would normally take weeks to move, and that it included sensitive employee data but was also notable for its destructive nature.

He put forth several ideas as to the source of the breach, most notably North Korea, given that Sony has been promoting a comedy about North Korea called "The Interview," starring James Franco and Seth Rogin, which North Korea has labeled "an act of war" and blamed the U.S. government for state sponsorship of terrorism for not acting to stop the movie's release, slated for Christmas Day. In case anyone hasn't seen the trailer on TV, Scully played it, showing that the plot contemplates an assassination attempt on North Korea's "Dear Leader" Kim Jong-Un, who incidentally is thought to be a fan of Western movies.

Bennett explained that while Americans see this as a satirical movie, North Korea professes to be scared that it will somehow be released there and attributes to it "a gust of hatred." He added that experts who have examined the code have found Korean language origins and resembles code used to hack South Korean banks and media companies in 2013 that are thought to have emanated from the North. However, he called this connection "tenuous at best" and noted that putative representatives of the hackers have credited disgruntled employees. Yet another possible explanation is "smoke and mirrors," the idea that hackers are using a North Korean connection to cover their tracks.

Scully referred to an article by Bennett titled "Four reasons why you should care about Sony getting hacked," and the first reason is that the attack might inspire similar attacks. Bennett said that experts expect copy cat attacks, and he emphasized that this is the first destructive attack perpetrated against a company in the U.S., and he pointed to a 2012 cyber attack against a large Saudi oil producer that destroyed data on 30,000 computers. Experts expect that now that someone has succeeded in achieving this in the U.S., others will follow.

Scully suggested that the attack could also have originated in Iran, and Bennett cited reports by experts that Iranian fingerprints were also found on the attack, which doesn't necessarily mean Iran has participated directly but does indicate that there has been an exchange of malware between Iranian and North Korean cyber terrorists. A technical agreement between the two countries was signed in 2012 to exchange hardware, which would imply software and malware.

In response to a question from Scully, Bennett distinguished the attack on Sony from the theft of data from Target and Home Depot on the basis that the latter were motivated by the opportunity for financial gain by gaining access to the accounts of customers, whereas the motive in the Sony case appears to be some form of political activism.

Asked by a viewer why Americans should care about an attack on a nonbank, Bennett referred to a statement by Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Md., ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee that destructive attacks have been a "looming threat" for some time that could spread, and he stressed the simplicity of the attack itself and warned that it could be directed at all computers attached to the Internet at any given time, and it would take only a half page of code to do this. The propensity of Kim or legions of hackers to engage in erratic behavior is a given. The FBI has circulated a memo to companies warning them of the likelihood of an attack incorporating code similar to that used in the Sony attack.

When a caller advanced the idea that this cyber attack could be a publicity stunt by Sony to promote the movie, Bennett responded simply that there is no evidence of this.

(Archived video can be found here.)

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Further developments are likely to occur in real time in the story of the alleged hacking of Sony's intellectual property, possibly by state-sponsored actors who gained access to Sony Pictures' virtual vault during Thanksgiving week.
Bennett, Sony, hack, North Korea
Monday, 08 December 2014 10:18 AM
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