What others say: Cyberterrorism should not go unpunished

  • Monday, December 29, 2014 8:35pm
  • Opinion

US President Barack Obama’s threat to re-list North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism should be no more than a first step in responding to Pyongyang’s act of cyberwarfare that prompted Sony to cancel the release of its slapstick comedy, The Interview, last week. Sony’s confidential emails were also hacked. Obama declared: “We cannot have a society in which some dictator some place can start imposing censorship here.” Preposterous as it was for North Korea to dictate what American and other audiences could watch, far more was at stake than censorship. If the President’s response stops there, North Korea and other rogue states will be more inclined than ever to treat him with impunity.

The last lesson the West needs Pyongyang to derive from the affair is that aggressive cyberterrorism will draw no more than a limited response from the West. Everything from military strategy, financial systems and transport to power and water supplies are administered in cyberspace. Rogue states and terrorists must be deterred from interfering with such networks by understanding they would pay a severe price for doing so. A weak American response to this matter could take years to correct and encourage other adversaries to take advantage.

Unfortunately, Sony Pictures capitulated to blackmail and cancelled the release of the film after the North Korean-backed hacking group Guardians of Peace threatened audiences to “remember the 11th of September.” As The Wall Street Journal suggested, the US government could do worse than buy the rights to the film, which is unadulterated slapstick in which North Korean despot Kim Jong-un is assassinated. The US government could then release the film, the Journal suggested, have it translated and floated into North Korea on USB sticks.

More seriously, North Korea’s cyberterrorism comes at a critical time, when North Korea’s nuclear program is close, according to the commander of US forces in Korea, General Curtis Scaparrotti, to being able to link nuclear devices to intercontinental ballistic missiles, capable of reaching the US. As a deterrent, the time for vigorous action by the US is now, before that capacity is achieved. An act of terror by one nation against the interests of another, in cyberspace or elsewhere, warrants no less a response than intensified sanctions.

The sanctions imposed by George W. Bush in 2007 brought the North Korean economy close to ruin. But, unfortunately, Bush succumbed to Kim Jong-il’s bogus promises of denuclearization and took North Korea off the terror list. The US should also exploit China’s growing frustration with its ugly neighboring regime, which it helps keep afloat. It is never easy to make the Pyongyang regime see sense. But revisiting the stringent financial embargoes formerly imposed by the US on the operations of the Macau bank that has long been the centre of the Kim family’s wealth and ability to sustain itself in power would extract leverage.

Obviously, not every cyberattack is an “act of war.” What sets the Sony attack apart is that it was backed by a nation-state and not the work of pranksters or commercial hackers. It must not go unpunished. Western nations, including Australia, also need a better understanding of potential cyber threats, how to deal with them and how to prevent them.

­ — The Australian,

Dec. 23

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