North Korea denied being behind the recent Sony hack, and now some cyber security experts say the country's “Dear Leader” Kim Jung-un has been made a fall guy.
"It's clear to us, based on both forensic and other evidence we've collected, that unequivocally they are not responsible for orchestrating or initiating the attack on Sony," Sam Glines, founder and chief executive officer of the cybersecurity company Norse, told CNN in an interview.
Kim Zetter, who covers cybercrime and security issues for Wired magazine, has also been skeptical, calling the evidence previously touted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation “flimsy.”
Hackers on Nov. 24 broke into Sony Pictures Entertainment's network. Employees were suddenly locked out of their computers and saw screens bearing red skeletons and a message announcing “Hacked by #GOP.”
“GOP” stood for “Guardians of Peace,” the group claiming responsibility for the attack. The group captured employees' personal information, including salaries and Social Security numbers, scripts and personal emails between Sony executives.
Reports soon linked the incident to the government of North Korea, claiming President Kim Jung-un ordered the cyberattack as retaliation for Sony backing the film “The Interview,” a comedy starring Seth Rogan and James Franco about two journalists drawn into a CIA plot to assassinate the North Korean leader.
The FBI said it was investigating the hack, and nearly three weeks later pointed the finger squarely on North Korea. The agency said North Korea used similar malware attacks in the past against South Korean banks and media outlets.
Meanwhile, an intimidated Sony announced it would not release the movie in any venue. It later changed its mind after President Obama criticized the company’s self-censorship and Americans across the country elevated the matter into an attack on the First Amendment.
Sony released the film at several hundred independent theaters and also made it available for online rent and download on Christmas Day.
Cybersecurity experts such as Glines and Zetter say the FBI's case is weak for blaming the attack on North Korea. The malware had been in the public domain for some time, they say, and could have been used by others, including non-state actors.
Scott Borg, founder of U.S. Cyber Consequences Unit, an independent research institute, told CNN that North Korea does have cyber warfare capabilities. But, he told the network, the Sony hack was “beyond the skill level that we have been able to observe.”