North Korea Internet

The United States hacked North Korea years before placing blame for the Sony Pictures breach on the country, according to former U.S. and foreign officials on Monday.

The National Security Agency infiltrated the North Korean network, one of the most impenetrable in the world, with the help of South Korea and other American allies in 2010. The NSA did this by breaching the Chinese networks that connect North Korea to the world, and then the agency sifted through connections in Malaysia that North Korean hackers frequently use.

The NSA placed malware in North Korea’s network to track what the country’s hackers were doing. South Korea’s military estimates North Korea has 6,000 hackers.

Officials said the United States hacking North Korea was critical in convincing President Barack Obama to accuse the country of carrying out the Sony Pictures hack. The accusations of the president and the FBI led to increased sanctions against North Korea as retaliation for “its destructive and coercive cyber-attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment.”

Usually determining where a cyber-attack is a slow process. “The speed and certainty with which the United States made its determinations about North Korea told you that something was different here – that they had some kind of inside view,” said James A. Lewis, a cyberware expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

While many may be surprised that the U.S. breached the network of a country so disconnected from the global Internet, North Korean officials probably weren’t.

Florian Egloff with the Center for Doctoral Training in Cyber Security at the University of Oxford explained, “North Korea knows that it is one of the top intelligence priorities of the U.S., so they have to assume the U.S. is spying on them.”

The attacks began in early September. If U.S. officials were watching the network of North Korean hackers, then it is unclear why the Sony Pictures breach wasn’t prevented or why Sony officials weren’t warned of a potential attack.

U.S. officials maintain they “couldn’t really understand the severity of the destruction” that would come from the Sony Pictures hack.

North Korea denies involvement with the hack, but described it as a “righteous deed.” The cyber-attack may have been done by North Korean supporters.

Many experts doubt North Korea accomplished the attack, or at least did it as a lone entity, because the hack was so sophisticated. Some have suggested the hack was an inside job within Sony or an outside group impersonating North Korea hackers.

Are you surprised that the United States hacked North Korea years before the Sony Pictures breach?

[Photo Credit: Prachatai]