In what looks to many in the information security community like a bizarre face-saving gesture with little basis in reality, the Obama administration today announced new sanctions on 10 senior North Korean officials and several organizations.
Earlier allegations by the U.S. that the North Korean government was behind the hacking of Sony Pictures have been met with increasing skepticism by infosec specialists around the world. The FBI hasn't released anything of substance publicly that bolsters its claims that Kim Jong-Un is to blame, but that isn't stopping administration officials from delivering on President Obama's promise of a "proportional response" against the regime.
The New York Times today reports that White House officials admit there is "no evidence that the 10 officials" targeted in today's new sanctions "took part in ordering or planning the Sony attack, although they described them as central to a number of provocative actions against the United States."
"It's a first step," one of the officials said. "The administration felt that it had to do something to stay on point. This is certainly not the end for them."
The actions may well turn out to be more symbolic than substantive: North Korea already faces some of the heaviest sanctions of any country. The action seemed to be an effort to echo sanctions that the Bush administration imposed eight years ago against a bank that the North Korean leadership used to buy goods illicitly and to reward leaders for loyalty. Those penalties were later judged to be the only actions that got the attention of Kim Jong-il, the dictator whose son now runs the country.
A counter-narrative to the administration's account of the Sony hack is emerging: "former Sony Pictures employees angry over their firing during a recent reorganization at the company."
Researchers from the security firm Norse allege that their investigation of the hack of Sony has uncovered evidence that leads, decisively, away from North Korea as the source of the attack. Instead, the company alleges that a group of six individuals is behind the hack, at least one a former Sony Pictures Entertainment employee who worked in a technical role and had extensive knowledge of the company's network and operations.
"In Response to Sony Attack, U.S. Levies Sanctions on 10 North Koreans" [nytimes.com]
"New Clues In Sony Hack Point To Insiders, Away from DPRK" [securityledger.com]