Last month’s devastating cyber-attack on Sony Pictures was not an “act of war”, but simple vandalism, US President Barack Obama has said.
The White House is still weighing how best to respond to the hack, which prompted Sony to cancel the Christmas release of its comedy The Interview, and which the US believes was carried out by North Korea.
The attack is believed to have been a response to the film, which depicts the death of the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un. “I don’t think it was an act of war,” Mr Obama told CNN in an interview broadcast on Sunday. “I think it was an act of cyber-vandalism that was very costly, very expensive. We take it very seriously. We will respond proportionately.”
The administration is considering adding North Korea to its list of states that sponsor terrorism, from which it was removed six years ago. According to a report by the New York Times, the US has also asked China to help block its neighbour’s capability to launch further cyber-attacks.
North Korea has denied responsibility for the hack, and has said it would retaliate if subjected to reprisals. Pyongyang’s military leadership issued a statement saying it was “ready to stand in confrontation with the US in all war spaces including cyber-warfare space.”
"The DPRK has already launched the toughest counteraction. Nothing is more serious miscalculation than guessing that just a single movie production company is the target of this counteraction. Our target is all the citadels of the U.S. imperialists who earned the bitterest grudge of all Koreans.
"Our toughest counteraction will be boldly taken against the White House, the Pentagon and the whole U.S. mainland, the cesspool of terrorism," the report said.
Mr Obama reiterated his belief that Sony “made a mistake” by pulling The Interview. “If we set a precedent in which a dictator in another country can disrupt... a company’s distribution chain or its products and, as a consequence, we start censoring ourselves, that’s a problem,” he said.
Sony Pictures CEO Michael Lynton has insisted the studio was forced to cancel the release because major US cinema chains refused to show it, following threats from the hackers. But, said Mr Obama, “Had they talked to me directly about this decision, I might have called the movie theatre chains and distributors.”
Over the weekend the chairman of the Republican National Convention, Reince Priebus, wrote to the CEOs of 10 major cinema chains, urging them to show The Interview. He also promised to encourage Republican party supporters to see the film, “not to support one movie or Hollywood, but to show North Korea we cannot be bullied into giving up our freedom.”