Policy Alert: Sony Hack Sparks Reactions from Rising Powers
The hacking attack allegedly conducted by North Korea against Sony Pictures Entertainment led the company to temporally cancel the Christmas day release of its controversial film The Interview, a movie about an assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. This cyberattack generated worldwide discussions on freedom of speech and cyber security. In this Policy Alert, we examine commentary from China, Japan, South Korea, Russia, India, and Brazil on the hacking incident.
Chinese officials urged restraint from both North Korea and the United States.
- “China is opposed to countries or individuals that launch cyber attacks on a third country from foreign soil,” stated Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying during a regular press briefing. She called for all parties involved to “keep restraint” to properly deal with the issue. “Cyber attacks tend to be anonymous and transnational so we must have full, professional and complete facts before making any conclusions,” Hua said.
- The state owned Global Times reported that The Interview has been immensely popular in China, where streaming versions of the movie have been made available illegally by users of online forums.
- “This North Korea-US cyber conflict has also reminded China that it must reinforce its cyber security and act as a constructive role to guard peace across the Internet,” wrote the Global Times.
Multiple commentators criticized the movie for being an impediment to diffusing tensions in the Korean peninsula
- “One of the unspoken diplomatic rules of bilateral relationships is that no group or country should demonize a country’s leader like The Interview does,” wrote Si Huan, associate professor at the National Institute of International Strategy, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. The Interview is “contrary” to the need to “maintain pressure on North Korea to keep it on the track to denuclearization,” Si added.
- Zhang Yiwu, a cultural critic and professor at Peking University, warned that the moviereflects Western society’s long-standing distorted view of North Korea. “Like the rest of the world, most of our knowledge about North Korea comes from Western media. As Western ideologies continue to penetrate Chinese society, Chinese online users may become unknowingly influenced by the movie, hence accepting the Western view of North Korea.”
- Lu Chao, a professor with the Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Timesthat Chinese viewers who support the movie are failing to take a critical perspective. Lu also warned that the light-hearted comedy could cause serious diplomatic consequences if the row between the US and North Korea escalates.
The Sony hacks generated nationwide discussions on cyber threats in the company’s home country, Japan, and newspapers unanimously criticized North Korea’s cyberattack.
- The Mainichi Shimbun condemned the attack as “unforgivable deeds,” arguing North Korea “must be subjected to the severest of investigations” and supporting a return of the country to the list of state sponsors of terrorism. In response to the movie’s online release, the newspaper noted the irony that “[the cyberattack] meant to stop people from seeing the film appears instead to be making it into a blockbuster.”
- The Yomiuri Shimbun joined the criticism against North Korea, calling its cyberattack “agrave challenge against freedom of speech, which we cannot ignore.”
- The Sankei Shimbun called the hacking a “national security threat” as such cyberattacks can be used to target military facilities and public infrastructures, and urged the U.S. government to reenlist North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism.
- The cyberattack highlights a “threat to global security,” argued the Asashi Shimbun. “One idea that merits serious consideration would be to raise this problem at the U.N. Security Council. The international community should take steps to fuel momentum for multilateral efforts to enhance cyber security,” the newspaper added.
- The newspaper also questioned North Korea’s rationale behind the attack. “The North Korean regime is believed to be seeking to improve its foreign relations before the 70th anniversary of the foundation of the country’s Workers’ Party…But the latest cyber-attack has seriously undermined its own efforts to start dialogue with the United States, its most important negotiating partner…Kim Jung Un needs to carefully ponder what his regime has to do to start talks with Washington.”
- The Nikkei Shimbun emphasized the need for intergovernmental cooperation to address cyber terrorism, noting that the hacking attack was allegedly carried out through the internet servers of third countries, possibly China or other neighboring states.
Korean newspapers debated the potential negative impacts of the hacking incident on national security and the ongoing inter-Korean dialogue as the two governments seek to hold ministerial-level talks this month.
- The JoongAng Ilbo emphasized the danger of cyberattacks, describing them as “low-cost and highly effective forms of asymmetric warfare that could be as dangerous as nuclear threats and suicide bombs that weaker combatants can use for dramatic effect.” It urged the South Korean government to “join international efforts and also train experts in the field and tighten its national security system against cyberattacks.”
- The newspaper also expressed concerns about the negative consequences for the ongoing inter-Korean negotiations. “It would be a real tragedy if the trashy Hollywood movie directly led to a clash between the United States and North Korea, and inter-Korean talks were subsequently canceled…[R]egardless of [U.S.] additional sanctions on North Korea, Seoul needs to promote inter-Korean talks as necessary…Seoul’s initiative should not be hindered by the United States. If necessary, President Park Geun-hye should call Obama personally.”
- “By all accounts, this is too dangerous a situation to be triggered by a third-rate spoof film,” The Korea Times warned, urging both the United States and North Korea to “restrain emotions” in order to prevent the hacking incident from ruining the inter-Korean dialogue.
- “The two Koreas can ill afford to waste 2015, the 70th anniversary of national liberation and division, because of the strategic interests of other nations,” the newspaper added.
- The Korea Herald suggested that South Korea might need to reconsider its approach to the North in light of the hacking incident. “A wiser choice for Seoul now may be to cautiously gauge Pyongyang’s true intent and sincerity toward change before making significant concessions to press ahead with inter-Korean dialogue.”
Russia offered sympathy to North Korea amid the Sony hacking scandal, saying the movie that sparked the dispute was so scandalous that Pyongyang’s anger was “quite understandable.”
- “The mere idea of the film is aggressively scandalous, and the reaction of the North Korean side is very understandable,” stated Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich.
- “We perceive the U.S. threats to take revenge and calls on other nations to condemn the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea as absolutely counterproductive and dangerous, as they only would add tensions to the already difficult situation on the Korean Peninsula and could lead to further escalation of conflict,” Lukashevich added.
Indian media outlets raised questions about India’s cyber defense in response to the Sony hacking.
- The Pioneer took seriously the security implications of the cyberattack, as it “highlights how future conflicts and wars may not ever be fought in the physical world. If indeed, as the American law enforcement has claimed, this attack was undertaken by North Korea, the small country has given the United States a bloody nose. The Indian security establishment ought to draw lessons from this.”
- In an op-ed titled “Is India Prepared to Tackle a Sony-Like Cyber Attack?” the Business Standard criticized the government for its slow response to potential future cyber threats, as its plan to establish National Cyber Coordination Centre (NCCC), which is designed to monitor the internet traffic and fend off such threats, has been still awaiting approval for a few years.
- “India can only find solace in the fact that its internet penetration is still one of the lowest in the world and digitization by corporate and governments is still limited,” the newspaper added.
- The Hindustan Times pointed out the dilemma behind the much-needed cyber defense: “The Sony case shows that Big Brother who watches the network may be a necessary evil. This can potentially hurt privacy and free speech. Are we in a Devil vs Deep Sea situation?”