U.S. retaliation to Sony film hack is unjustified

Since the Sony hack, which breached thousands of confidential company emails and made terrorism threats against any US cinemas that aired ‘The Interview’, our newspapers have been filled with accounts and updates on the cyber-vandalism incident. After the FBI claimed that hackers, working under the codename ‘Guardians of the Peace’, were in fact representatives of North Korea, America has imposed economic sanctions against three North Korean companies and ten government officials. While seemingly an appropriate and (if you’ll forgive the pun) peacekeeping response, this retaliation is in fact highly provocative and unjustified.

Multiple experts, including Marc Rogers (Cloudfare Principle Security Researcher) have come forward to question whether the communist regime really was behind the hacks. He has claimed that it “feels more like someone who had an issue with Sony”, writing in The Daily Beast that it was most likely a disgruntled employee. This seems highly likely, especially when one takes into account that it was not until the media made the link between the ‘Guardians of the Peace’ and ‘The Interview’ that hackers started mentioning the film.

North Korea’s National Defence Commission (NDC) has in fact accused Washington of “groundlessly linking the unheard of hacking at the Sony Pictures Entertainment to the DPRK.” While labelling the act a “righteous deed”, they deny any involvement.

Why would such a reactionary country, quite willing to make nuclear threats and arguably racist remarks about America’s leader (they have labelled Obama a ‘monkey’ on multiple occasions) deny involvement in an act which they clearly approve of, unless they truly did have nothing to do with it? Similarly, if the FBI really does have conclusive proof that North Korea was to blame, why hide it?

It seems that instead, the White House may be trying to make an example of the country, rather than acting justly.

Dan Roberts, Washington Bureau chief for The Guardian, reports that the US’s latest actions are designed to complement existing sanctions against North Korea’s attempts at nuclear proliferation. He argues that the specified agencies and individuals were not targeted because the US believes they were directly involved in the hack.

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But if the US were justly retaliating to a specific attack, the Sony hack, why would they target those not involved?

The Treasury Secretary Jack Lew stated that: “Even as the FBI continues its investigation into the cyber-attack against Sony Pictures Entertainment, these steps underscore that we will employ a broad set of tools to defend US businesses and citizens, and to respond to attempts to undermine our values or threaten the national security of the United States.”

Let’s look at the implications of this statement for a moment. The FBI has not finished its investigation. It “continues” to examine the situation as economic sanctions are placed upon individuals who most likely had nothing to do with the hack. The US acts so as to send a message to North Korea, that it may not “threaten the national security of the United States,” as Secretary of the Treasury Jacob J. Lew said. If we were certain that this was a threat to US security, this would be an appropriate response. However, with doubt being voiced by numerous experts, we have not yet proved ‘beyond all reasonable doubt’ that the country being punished is to blame – or even involved.

Not only this, but the hacking of the private company was used by Obama in his last press conference of 2014 as proof that it is “so important for Congress to work with us to get a bill passed that allows for the kind of information sharing we need,” and that “this points to the need for us to set up an international community … to set up some rules of the road.” The incident is actively being used to forward government proposals.

While I disagree with the overwhelming majority of the statements issued by the North Korean government, it seems that they may have been correct to label Obama “reckless” in his reaction to the Sony hack. In a world where we advocate the innocence of parties until proven guilty as well as freedom of speech, Obama’s desperation to make an example of North Korea, before investigating the issue fully, seems to be more a political move than a judicious one.