Sony Pictures has cancelled the release of a film on the fictional assassination of North Korea’s leader, in what appears to be an unprecedented victory for Pyongyang and its abilities to wage cyber-warfare.
The company came under immediate criticism for the decision to pull the show.
“With the Sony collapse, America has lost its first cyberwar. This is a very, very dangerous precedent,” said former Republican House of Representatives speaker Newt Gingrich.
Experts say the Sony Pictures hack may be the costliest cyberattack ever inflicted on an American business. The fallout from the hack exposed a trove of sensitive documents, and this week escalated to threats of terrorism.
Despite widespread poverty, malnutrition and decades of crippling U.S.-led economic sanctions, Pyongyang has poured resources into training thousands of hackers who regularly target bitter rival, Seoul.
Experts believe that for impoverished North Korea, expanding its warfare into cyberspace is an attractive choice because it is cheaper and faster to develop malicious computer codes than to build nuclear bombs or other weapons of mass destruction. Online attacks can be performed anonymously, another upside for the infiltrators.
It is also a battle in which North Korea has little to lose. Unlike South Korea where commerce and many aspects of daily life are dependent on the internet, only a fraction of North Koreans can go online. In South Korea, a crippled website or a disruption of online banking poses great inconvenience.
Experts have warned of the possibility that North Korea could mobilize its hackers to attack key infrastructure, such as power plants.