North Korea has warned of strikes against key sites in the US in retaliation for Washington blaming Pyongyang for the recent Sony cyber attack, saying any US punishment over the incident would lead to damage “thousands of times greater”.
Late on Sunday North Korea’s National Defence Commission said President Barack Obama was “recklessly” spreading rumours that Pyongyang was behind the cyber attack. Sony has pulled The Interview , a satirical film depicting the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, after the hacking and subsequent threats of terrorist attacks against cinemas that screened it.
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The NDC said its 1.2m-member army was ready to use all types of warfare against the US. “Our toughest counteraction will be boldly taken against the White House, the Pentagon, and the whole US mainland, the cesspool of terrorism, by far surpassing the ‘symmetric counteraction’ declared by Obama,” said the NDC statement, carried by official news agency KCNA.
Pyongyang has routinely made similar threats against South Korea and the US during times of confrontation, but the latest hostile rhetoric against Washington underlines Pyongyang’s anger over the movie.
The threat comes as US officials are scrambling to come up with ways to retaliate after the FBI announced on Friday that it believed North Korea was behind the cyber attack against Sony, and warned that it would impose “costs and consequences” on those responsible.
Huge amounts of Sony Pictures data were accessed and then destroyed in last month’s hack. Employee pay details, health records, social security numbers and other personal data were then dumped online. The hackers, who call themselves Guardians of Peace, also released Sony executives’ private emails to the media.
Mr Obama has said he is considering imposing fresh sanctions on North Korea, including putting Pyongyang back on its list of state sponsors of terrorism, six years after it was removed.
Pyongyang has denied its involvement and proposed a joint investigation into the cyber attack, but it promised in June to “mercilessly destroy” anyone associated with The Interview.
Observers say North Korea has the capacity to hack any organisation in the world, with South Korea’s former defence minister Kim Kwan-jin saying last year that the communist country operates an elite unit of 3,000 cyber experts.
Seoul has accused Pyongyang of numerous cyber attacks over the past five years. It is now investigating the online leak of data related to its nuclear reactors after a recent attack on the plant operator’s computer systems.
“Pyongyang would never admit its involvement in the Sony hacking, fearing the negative consequences such an admission would bring,” said Kim Yong-hyun, professor at Dongguk University.
US officials have approached China for help in blocking cyber attacks emanating from North Korea, which is alleged to have relied on Chinese networks to mount its assault on Sony. But China fell short of responding to US calls for action against North Korea, saying only that it opposes all forms of cyber attack.
“[China] opposes any country or individual using other countries’ domestic facilities to conduct cyber attacks on third-party nations,” China’s foreign ministry said in a statement on Monday.
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