In the wake of allegations that North Korea hacked into Sony Pictures, a former top CIA officer dealing with the reclusive country said that North Korea should not be mistaken for a technologically backward land and is in fact one of the most dangerous cyberwarfare states in the world. Bruce Klingner, a 20-year CIA veteran who was the former deputy chief of the North Korea division, said the regime “has around 3,000 cyberwarriors in various units of the North Korean army and intelligence services.”
The Sony hack, which took place on Nov. 24, has resulted in the cancellation of a major film release and prompted an investigation by the State Department and the FBI.
North Korean “military officials have commented that cyberwarfare is now part of their new domain in the overall war effort,” Klingner said in a phone interview.
After receiving threats from the hackers that the "the world will be full of fear" if the movie "The Interview" was screened, Sony canceled the film's release indefinitely. Along with threats made against the movie -- a satire depicting the killing of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un -- 100 terabytes of data were also taken from Sony servers, including personal information regarding actors and employees, as well as movie scripts.
While it’s widely believed that the hackers are part of the North Korean government, the White House has remained quiet on who it thinks might be behind the attacks until after an investigation is concluded. However, Klingner said, the North Korean government has protested the movie in the past, calling it an act of terror and war and even appealing to U.S. President Barack Obama and U.N. Secretary-General Ban-ki moon.
Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, said the administration had held talks with Sony and was considering its response, making it clear that the White House was taking this breach more seriously than other hacked private companies and giving credence to allegations that this was an attack from a serious source that could well be a threat to national security.
If it is North Korea behind the hack, it would not be the first time for the Communist dictatorship, according to Klingner, who said the Pyongyang regime regularly cyberattacks South Korean government agencies, businesses and banks and has attacked U.S. government agencies in the past. But little has been written about these attacks in the mainstream Western press, leaving many with the impression that North Korea -- a secretive, backward, impoverished nation closed off to the world -- could not pull off attacks using the Internet.
“If the U.S. government officially declares that the North Korean government is behind this, that will have a public impact,” Klingner said.
As part of a U.S. response, Klingner said it should place North Korea back on the list of states that sponsor terrorism. "On that issue, U.S. law defines international terrorism as acts that would be a criminal violation if committed in the U.S. and are intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population. This act would certainly qualify North Korea" as member of the list, Klingner said.