Is North Korea behind Sony cyber-attacks?

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media captionThe Interview film trailer, courtesy Columbia Pictures

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A motion picture studio crosses a dictator, and the ruthless despot responds by launching an attack that brings the Hollywood moguls to their knees.

It's the kind of story that would make a great film.

But is North Korea really behind last week's cyber-attack on Sony pictures? An anonymous group, the Guardians of Peace, aka #GOP, claimed responsibility for hacking the company's servers and posted a menacing warning that if their (unnamed) demands aren't met, secret data will be "shown to the world".

Over the weekend five recent Sony films - including the Brad Pitt World War Two epic Fury - began appearing on popular file-sharing sites. Is that film and a remake of the classic musical Annie part of the now-revealed secret data?

There's no conclusive proof of a connection, but it makes for a gripping plot development. The entertainment magazine Variety reports that the five films - four of which have yet to be released in theatres - have been downloaded more than a million times. The financial damage to the studio could be measured in the tens of millions.

And where do the North Koreans come in? Flash back to this June, as Sony announced that it would be distributing The Interview, a comedy starring Seth Rogan and James Franco in which they play journalists hired by the CIA to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. (The film's producers probably pitched it as a modern-day Argo with an Asian twist.)

North Korea responded to the news with over-the-top anger, pledging "merciless counter-measure" for a "blatant act of terrorism and war".

Now Sony finds itself the victim of a cyber-attack that effectively disabled the company's computer network, including email, for almost a week.

Again, there is no conclusive proof of a link - but the website re/code reports that "Sony and outside security consultants are actively exploring the theory that the hack may have been carried out by third parties operating out of China on North Korea's behalf".

"The sources stress that a link to North Korea hasn't been confirmed, but has not been ruled out, either," they continue.

It's not exactly an ironclad finding of guilt, but that's more than enough for the Washington Post's Anna Fifield to take the delicious story and run with it.

"Say you're the dictator of the most closed state on earth, used to being revered as a god, and a bunch of Americans make a movie in which they attempt to assassinate you," she writes."How do you get revenge? Well, the usual old fireworks - missiles and maybe a nuke test - won't be much noticed by those Hollywood types. You've got to hit them where it hurts."

If the North Koreans are indeed behind this high-profile hacking incident, it wouldn't be the first time. In 2012 their digital army - reported by the South Korean think tank Police Policy Institute to be 3,000 strong - are believed to have flexed their muscle with a co-ordinated attack on South Korean business and government websites.

"Although no one but the most elite of the elite has access to the Internet in North Korea, the Kim regime has been building quite a cyber-army and it has a record when it comes to devastating cyber-attacks," Fifield writes.

So could North Korea really be behind the cyber-attack on Sony? There's no way of knowing yet. But with more than three weeks until The Interview is set to hit theatres, more plot twists may be in store.


Latin America embraces US immigration action - In the wake of US President Barack Obama's immigration legislation, El Espectador's Eduardo Barajas Sandoval writes that the American dream is still alive. Whether the US likes it or not, he says, people are moving in waves up and down the vast American continent, leading to racial and cultural blending.

"In the long term, the US is likely to look more and more like Latin America," he writes (translated by WorldCrunch). "While the essential components of its political and economic model will remain the same - assuming capitalism can be humanized from what it is now - its social, cultural and ethnic traits will undergo a significant makeover due to the arrival of millions of the continent's native inhabitants, the original Americans, who are invading the US with their music, food, work and values, and ready to mix in to survive and advance."

All of this, says Barajas, is in keeping with the American tradition.


US shopping holiday goes global - Outside the Beltway author Doug Mataconis is puzzled why the traditional "Black Friday" shopping spree suddenly turned into a big deal in the United Kingdom. He expects it to stick around and become more prevalent in the coming years, however.

"I suppose that this proves that people can be driven to a near frenzy on a seemingly random day of the week over the idea that they might be getting a deal of some kind even though it's likely that they'd end up getting a better deal on the same items as we get closer to Christmas," he writes.

After all, he says, to some extent consumerism is something that appeals to, for lack of a better term, base human desires about the acquisition of things and the desire to believe that you're getting a deal on some highly desired item.


Mubarak's release speaks louder than words - Despite the judge's insistence all charges dropped against former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has nothing to do with politics, writes Vox's Max Fisher, this is all about politics.

In the last four years, Fisher explains, Egypt veered from the secular authoritarianism of Mr Mubarak, to the secular liberalism of the 2011 revolution, to the Islamism of the 2012 democratically elected Muslim Brotherhood government, and back to secular authoritarianism with Abdel Fatah al-Sisi's July 2013 coup.

"The public response has been mostly muted and shows no sign of picking up, which says a great deal about how much has changed since hundreds of thousands of Egyptians protested to demand Mubarak step down less than four years ago."


Working yourself to death - The Jakarta Post's Nury Vittachi notes that God surrounds naturally wicked people with excessively nice people, which is why sweet-natured employees pay the price when big, slick organisations act wickedly.

He cites the example of Beijing banker Li Jianhua, who worked himself to death pulling an all-nighter. His employers, the Chinese Banking Regulatory Commission, held him up as an example other staff should follow: "We can all learn from Comrade Li Jianhua … who gave an unremitting struggle to perform his best and to sacrifice everything."

"Middle managers must have been delighted," writes Vittachi, putting words into their mouths: "'New rules, lads, working yourself to death is now the minimum requirement for promotion.'"

BBC Monitoring's quotes of the day

Taiwan's Premier Jiang Yi-huah has resigned after the ruling Kuomintang Party suffered heavy defeats in local elections on Saturday. The election is widely seen as a referendum on the ruling party's policy on relations with China.

"Taiwan's politics may take its own course, but regardless of its course of development, it is after all a planet that orbits the rise of the mainland and the revival of the Chinese nation. The heavier mainland China becomes, the less likely that Taiwan can escape from its gravitational pull." - Editorial in Beijing's Global Times.

"The DPP's victory does not mean that its policy of resisting [mainland China] has won the support of the majority of the people without being questioned, or that some moderate voters have attempted to give their confidence to the DPP to change [Taiwan's] cross-strait relations policies." - Ni Yongjie in Taipei's China Times.

"The more Taiwanese people see the chaotic protests in Hong Kong, the more they reject [being governed under the notion of] 'One Country, Two Systems'. The more Hong Kong people see Taiwan's election results, the more they want the people to be in charge. As the two affect each other, a common sign is that Beijing's tactics to win hearts and minds using economic sweeteners are no longer silver bullets." - Editorial in Hong Kong's Economic Journal.‎

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