NSA Reportedly Hacked North Korea Years Before Sony Hack
Why has the U.S. National Security Agency been so confident in pointing the finger at North Korea in connection with last year's highly damaging hack of Sony Pictures? Apparently because years before North Korea hacked Sony, the NSA hacked North Korea.
According to reports published over the weekend by Germany's Der Spiegel and The New York Times, the NSA first accessed North Korea's networks in 2010 with help from South Korea and other allies. Its purpose at the time was reportedly to gain intelligence on North Korea's nuclear program, but the surveillance became broader after a damaging hack -- eventually linked to North Korea -- of South Korean banks and TV stations.
An NSA document -- one of many posted by Der Spiegel on Saturday and identified as coming from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden -- reveals some of the agency's discussions regarding hacking efforts connected to North Korea went as far back as 2007. However, it appears that, even with the access the NSA was eventually able to get, the agency did not detect any warning signs leading up to the attack on Sony Pictures.
'Highly Unusual' Finger-Pointing
The November hacking of Sony Pictures led to the public release of internal documents, employee Social Security numbers and other data, embarrassing executive e-mails and number of yet-to-open films, including "The Interview," starring Seth Rogen. That film is believed by officials to have been the motivation for the attack on Sony, as the comedy depicts an assassination attempt on North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-un.
After the attack was revealed, U.S. officials were quick to pinpoint North Korea as the perpetrator. As The New York Times reported, this move was "highly unusual: The United States had never explicitly charged another government with mounting a cyberattack on American targets."
While the NSA's backdoor access to North Korea's computer networks should have, in theory, enabled the agency to detect early warning signs of the Sony attack, its investigators only made the connection after the fact, according to The New York Times. They reportedly did not see anything unusual in the e-mails to Sony used in a "spear phishing" attack to inject malicious code in the film company's computer systems.
'Wars of the Future'
The Spiegel article published Saturday was written by, among others, Laura Poitras, the independent filmmaker and journalist who -- along with Glenn Greenwald -- first met with Snowden in Hong Kong in 2013. Snowden provided them with thousands of classified documents he had gained access to while working as an NSA contractor.
Those documents revealed the extent to which the U.S. and its "Five Eyes" allies spied on phone, e-mail and online activities by both U.S. citizens and others. (The Five Eyes alliance includes Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK and the U.S.) They have also helped to highlight how cyberspace has become the latest battlefield for numerous governments.
As Der Spiegel reported, "According to top secret documents from the archive of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden seen exclusively by Spiegel, (the Five Eyes) are planning for wars of the future in which the Internet will play a critical role, with the aim of being able to use the net to paralyze computer networks and, by doing so, potentially all the infrastructure they control, including power and water supplies, factories, airports or the flow of money."