North Korea falls off the internet – is the United States to blame?

On Friday, US President Barack Obama made headlines around the world, confirming that the White House believed that North Korea engaged in the hacking attack against Sony Pictures.

“They caused a lot of damage, and we will respond. We will respond proportionally, and we’ll respond in a place and time and manner that we choose.”

Whether you agree with the FBI and President Obama that the-powers-that-be in North Korea are responsible for the devastating hack on Sony (for what it’s worth, I’m personally unconvinced) doesn’t really matter, because events are taking their own course at speed.

Now, just a few days later, North Korea’s (admittedly limited) access to the internet appears to have gone down the plughole.

As the New York Times reports, internet monitoring companies first noticed that North Korea’s internet access was becoming unstable late on Friday.

The country’s internet connectivity, which is routed through China, worsened over the weekend and finally gave up the ghost – sending the country completely offline – on Monday.

The timing of North Korea’s internet blackout is certainly curious, and will lead some to speculate that it might be the “proportional” response hinted at by Barack Obama who had referred to the Sony hacking attack as “cyber vandalism” rather than the more worrying and hawkish term “cyberwarfare” or “terrorism”.

But would the United States be able to turn off North Korea’s internet access so easily? The simplest method would probably be to ask for China’s assistance – as the rogue state’s connectivity runs through telecoms firm China Unicom in Shenyang, China.

But China, don’t forget, has said that it doesn’t believe that the United States has any proof that North Korea sas behind the hack – whilst at the same time, for what it’s worth, condemning the attacks like that launched against Sony.

And if it wasn’t the United States (with Chinese assistance) turning off North Korea’s internet access, then who was it?

Could it be just regular hackers who have decided to swamp North Korea’s puny broadband connection with traffic – perhaps launching a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack against the country’s routers? After all, it’s surprising what hackers can achieve without having the backing of the state.

Or maybe it’s something more down-to-earth completely – and just a temporary glitch that will soon be resolved. After all, do you remember when a Georgian woman managed to accidentally cut off her country’s entire internet access?

Like most of the story surrounding the Sony hack and its repercussions, there is plenty of guess work and speculation. And it may take some time before we can be confident, if ever, that we know the real truth.

Perhaps, in the meantime, it would be wise for all companies to learn some of the practical lessons that can be learnt from the Sony hack – so that they are less likely to themselves become victims of cybercrime.

Author Graham Cluley, We Live Security

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