Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Sony, North Korea and the Future of Cyberwarfare

By Jim McFarlin

The recent hack against Sony Pictures Entertainment (widely believed to have been perpetrated by North Korea), its threats of physical violence against Americans, and its successful attempt to restrict our right of free speech can only be termed an attack on America.

There are no bombs bursting in air, nor bodies littering the streets. But these actions, as Senator John McCain succinctly stated, clearly represent “a new form of warfare.”

The repercussions of the Sony hacks are only made greater by the tepid response from the U.S. government, which amounted to President Obama calling the act “cyber vandalism.” In spite of the president’s televised vow to strike back at North Korea with “proportional force,” his definition merely serves to reduce the level response from America.

Another red line – although a hazy one, perhaps.

Last February, Iranian-based cyberattacks against casino operator Las Vegas Sands resulted in $40 million in recovery costs, according to Bloomberg BusinessWeek. The catalyst? CEO Shelon Adelson’s remarks calling for a nuclear attack on Iran.

If $40 million sounds like a hefty sum, consider this: Sony’s losses are rumored to top $100 million.

Matt Devost, President and CEO of SusionX LLC, a leading computer security firm, was recently quoted as calling the Sony attacks “the dawn of a new age” in which cyberattacks will increasingly occur, designed not only for destruction but to influence behavior.

Is this cyberattack against Sony a possible model for future cyber threats? In remarkably prescient thinking, global risk advisory firm Control Risks CEO Richard Fenning believes so.

Fenning recently provided a geopolitical perspective on 2015 cyber risks that bears directly on the North Korean threat to the United States:

“Relations between states are at the worst level since the height of the Cold War. Technology and weak state power together are providing increased opportunities for terrorists and cyber criminals, with minimal prospects for international cooperation and policing to fight these threats.”

The Sony cyberattack provides an archetypal example of a weaker global state -- or perhaps a yet unknown third party -- using cyber threats to level the playing field in potential confrontations with the United States.

Senator McCain is right. Cyberspace is a rapidly evolving electronic frontier containing endless possibilities for harm, disruption, extortion and war. Based on the limp U.S. response so far, these possibilities will become realities which may be unleashed across our land – and soon.

(North Korean Flag Image by taesmileland/


  1. A succinct and ominous synopsis.

  2. And I hope, when we check back one year from now, wrong.

  3. Five years on the threats are everywhere, there is little sense of urgency, and just have word of the Marriott breach, second largest in history.

  4. "widely believed to have been perpetrated by North Korea" - Thank you, Kim Jong Un, for a pirated copy of "The Interview" :)