With the pledge of proportionate response by the United States regarding the recent hacking attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment coming out after pointing out North Korea as the culprit acting behind the attack, the North Korean connection to the Internet stopped functioning as of December 21, suggesting the possibility of “cyber warfare” between the two nations.
According to news reported by major American media including the New York Times (NYT) on Dec. 22, the North Korean connection to the Internet became unstable on the 19th, followed by the complete loss of connection on the 22nd. It has still yet to be fully restored, though some parts of the network including the Rodong Sinmun (Workers’ Newspaper) came back online on the 23rd.
The outbreak occurred right after United States President Barack Obama publicly pledged a “proportional response” to North Korea's attack, following an official announcement by the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), which stated that the cyber attack on Sony Pictures was launched by North Korea.
This is driving public opinion towards an assumption that the United States is behind the Internet breakdown of North Korea. However, some are also claiming that North Korea itself decided to shut down its own Internet system to protect against an American cyber strike.
A day before the shutdown, North Korea spoke out through their announcement, “The U.S. claims that North Korea is behind the hacking of Sony Pictures are without any reason at all,” threatening, “We will launch retaliation with extreme prejudice on the entire continent of the United States, the very stronghold of terrorism.”
The Korean government has been on alert as well after witnessing the connection problems occurring on websites run by North Korea, paying keen attention to the background of the incident.
A government official said to reporters, “We are carefully observing whether the cause of the connection problem comes from external hacking or a self-audit procedure to strengthen their security systems,” adding, “Because the Rodong Sinmun operates its server in China and the Korean Central News Agency in Japan, respectively, the availability of a connection cannot simply be determined by the location of the server.”
China’s posture is also drawing attention. According to reports by the Xinhua News Agency of China and Bloomberg Communications on Dec. 23, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs has accepted the cooperation requested by the United States and is going to have its Office of National Internet & Information provide aid regarding the investigation of the recent cyber attack. The decision was made after the United States Secretary of State John Kerry made a request to Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi for cooperation on the hacking investigation.
The router for North Korea's Internet connection is known to be run by China Unicom, a government-owned company in China, which indicates that once China begins their part of the investigation, it will be revealed whether or not North Korea is actually responsible for the cyber attack.