The Cable

Obama Slams North Korea With Sanctions for Sony Hack

Hackers allegedly conspiring with North Korea were unable to keep The Interview, a film that depicts a fictional assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, out of movie theaters over the Christmas holiday. Now, in a second blow, President Barack Obama is tightening economic sanctions on Pyongyang. Obama authorized the Treasury Department to impose ...

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Hackers allegedly conspiring with North Korea were unable to keep The Interview, a film that depicts a fictional assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, out of movie theaters over the Christmas holiday. Now, in a second blow, President Barack Obama is tightening economic sanctions on Pyongyang.

Obama authorized the Treasury Department to impose new penalties in “proportional response” to “ongoing provocative, destabilizing, and repressive actions and policies, particularly its destructive and coercive cyber attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment,” the White House said in a statement Friday. Senior administration officials said this is the first time a country has been punished for a cyberattack on an American company.

Three North Korean government entities — the Reconnaissance General Bureau, North Korea’s primary intelligence agency; the Korea Mining Development Trading Corporation, Pyongyang’s main arms dealer; and the Korea Tangun Trading Corporation, responsible for procurement and technology connected to North Korean defense research and development — are subject to the new penalties, which prohibit American individuals or companies from doing business with them. All three are already being punished by previous sanctions, administration officials said.

Ten individuals with connections to Korea Mining Development Trading Corporation have also been cut off from the American financial system. Any assets they have inside the United States are now frozen.

Though none of the entities or individuals being targeted with the new sanctions were directly responsible for the Sony hack that stole employee data and threatened the release of The Interview, the sanctions announced Friday represent the first follow through on administration threats to punish Pyongyang for its cyber mischief. Administration officials called the sanctions “the first step in our proportional response,” declining to comment on whether the United States was involved in a recent internet outage in North Korea.

Top congressional voices, including Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, last month called for U.S. economic sanctions on North Korea in response to the Sony hack. But North Korea has been subject to numerous sanctions levied by the United Nations and the United States for years, so the impact of the new penalties is likely to be more symbolic than substantive. Administration officials said the executive order was broad enough to allow the Obama administration to impose additional penalties in the future.

The White House pushed ahead with new sanctions even as questions linger over whether North Korea was indeed responsible for the Sony hack. Many in the tech community have cast doubt on allegations by the Federal Bureau of Investigation that placed the blame for the attack squarely on North Korea. Correctly identifying who carried out a cyber attack is one of the thorniest problems of cyber war.

But Obama administration officials pushed back against those doubts. “Some of these cyber security firms don’t have access to the same channels of information” that we do, an administration official said. “We stand firmly behind our call.”

Photo Credit:  Moses Robinson/WireImage

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