When the federal government recently accused the North Korean government of participating in the computer hacking of the Sony Corporation as a response to the release of The Interview, varying pundits called the action: “an act of war” “cyber terrorism”, “cyber crime” and President Obama called it “vandalism” and promised a “proportional response”. Interestingly enough, the President stated that the public may not even be aware of the response. That is pretty convenient because even if you do nothing, you can always say you did. We all know that this administration historically has no problem “stretching the truth”.
Was this an act of war? One definition of war: “a conflict carried on by force of arms, as between nations or between parties within a nation”. Did North Korea intend to invade and gain control of the United States? Did North Korea intend to cripple the infrastructure of the United States to create havoc and take control of the country? I would argue that the computer hacking of Sony did not affect the United States, at large, and was not intended to control the overall activity or property of the nation. Sony is a Japanese multinational business with some operations in the United States. Additionally, if the act is defined officially as an act of war, it requires a response appropriate for declaring war on the United States. And as much as people think that North Korea is a near constant irritation, utterly destroying the country seems a bit harsh.
Terrorism? Relatively random acts of violence meant to intimidate a population and disrupt the normal routine of its citizens. To scare an entire population, terror acts have to have a sense of randomness to make the entire population feel threatened. This act was not at all random. Maybe other large corporations felt the generic need to review their network security but other than the inability to see a movie that was expected to be a box office flop, the general population at large was not affected. The only available responses to terrorism are to go after the perpetrators individually or to add a nation to the state-sponsors of terrorism list. Again, this seems a bit harsh because the public could not see a bad movie.
Vandalism? Vandalism is destruction for destruction’s sake. When an inner city teen defaces a wall with graffitti, there is not usually a political agenda, although in some individual cases there may be. The vandal usually does not expect a specific response to the act. North Korea will hardly sneak someone into the US to spray paint an overpass and then celebrate their great political accomplishment. Therefore, Mr. President, I heartily disagree with your early assessment. The President appeared to be making light of the incident so that his administration would not be forced into a larger (or any) response.
Criminal behavior? Blackmail is seeking a payment in response for the threat of revelations or accusations. Extortion is to obtain something from a subject by violence, intimidation, or abuse of authority. Extortion seems to fit this case best. The act was intended to put Sony in a position where releasing the movie would create too much risk to be worth the return. Therefore, the correct response is to do what the government would do in any other case when dealing with a criminal, go after the criminal(s) who perpetrated the act. If, however, the criminals were acting on the behest of the government of North Korea, then the government of North Korea IS the criminal or is, at least, harboring the criminals. In that case, the Obama administration really has little recourse other than sanctions, etc. I suspect the Obama administration will do nothing or next to nothing once the news cycle moves on. After all, they have never gone after murderers given sanctuary in Cuba and are letting much worse criminals/terrorists leave from Guantanamo Bay detention.