This screen shot shows the message that appeared on employees’ computers after the catastrophic hacking at Sony Pictures Entertainment. CNN Money

As top brass at Sony Pictures Entertainment scramble to contain the considerable fallout from last month’s cyberattack by a hacking collective calling itself Guardians of Peace, investigators still haven’t pinpointed the geographical source of the online onslaught.

Since firing its opening salvo on Nov. 24, the #GOP group has given vexed Sony execs, as well as the experts they’ve hired to help them, ample reason to zoom in on North Korea and allied agents — largely because the hackers specifically referred to the studio’s upcoming release of “The Interview” as a motive for their raid on the company’s private files. The diplomatically challenged comedy, starring Seth Rogen and James Franco, pokes fun at North Korea and culminates in an assassination plot targeting the country’s leader, Kim Jong Un.

However, Variety’s Brent Lang looked closely into the North Korea question in a report posted Tuesday, and the sources he consulted came up with good arguments to support and refute the theory:

There is a precedent. In the past, North Korea was linked to a 2013 cyber attack on three South Korean television stations and a bank, although the Sony hacking and the slow and deliberate reveal of information shows a new level of sophistication.

“If North Korea was not involved in some way I’d be surprised,” said Steve Weber, a political science professor at UC Berkeley.

Other experts are less certain, however, and North Korea has publicly denied that it is involved even as it has praised the attacks as a “righteous deed.”

“It’s easy to present them as this powerful menace, but the reality is this is an extremely poor country with limited resources,” said David Kang, professor of international relations and business at the University of Southern California. “Maybe they’d do something like this, but I need more proof than they didn’t like a movie by Sony.”

If North Korea was involved in the blitzkrieg on Sony, according to Lang, “it signals that a new age of cyber attacks has arrived at Hollywood.” This is the first such incident to hit Hollywood, giving other multinational corporations in the entertainment industry cause to double down on their own security, regardless of the source. CNN Money also offered an analysis of the evidence pointing to North Korea.

Damage from the breach included the release of classified data about Sony employees’ salaries and other personal information, as well as leaked movie content. James Franco and Seth Rogen’s paychecks for their roles were also made public ($6.5 million and $8.4 million, respectively).

The hackers are reportedly demanding that Sony pull “The Interview,” which is scheduled to hit U.S. theaters on Christmas Day.

In response to the exposé, Franco observed the time-honored Hollywood tradition of flipping the script by turning scandals into fodder for jokes on late-night television, taking up the topic in his “Saturday Night Live” monologue on Dec. 6 (via the New York Daily News):

–Posted by Kasia Anderson


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