Japan, South Korea condemn Sony cyber attack

Japan strongly condemns a cyberattack on Sony Pictures Entertainment that the United States has blamed on North Korea, and is maintaining close contact with Washington on the matter, a Japanese Foreign Ministry spokesman said. -- PHOTO: AFP
Japan strongly condemns a cyberattack on Sony Pictures Entertainment that the United States has blamed on North Korea, and is maintaining close contact with Washington on the matter, a Japanese Foreign Ministry spokesman said. -- PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan and South Korea have condemned a cyber attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment that the United States has blamed on North Korea, and Japan is maintaining close contact with Washington on the matter, a Japanese Foreign Ministry spokesman said.

But Japan sees no direct impact on its talks with North Korea over the fate of Japanese citizens abducted by Pyongyang's agents decades ago, the spokesman added.

"Japan recognises that the cyberattack is a serious issue that affects national security and we strongly condemn the hacking," the spokesman told Reuters by telephone.

"We do not think this would give any direct impact to Japan-North Korea consultations and we continue to demand that North Korea conduct its research (on the abductees) rapidly and demand a quick report to Japan of the results of the investigation."

A spokesman for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Japan would be closely coordinating with international society, including the United States, on what action to take on cyber attacks, but added: “At this moment, we refrain from prejudging further steps.”

South Korea, which has blamed the North for a series of cyber-attacks on its banks and broadcasters in 2013, said such assaults could not be tolerated.

“South Korea will continue to share related information related to the cyber attack against Sony Pictures,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “We will also continue to cooperate internationally to strengthen deterrence and response towards cyber-attacks.”

In a statement, it also noted “the similarities between the attacks on Sony Pictures and those against South Korean banks and others in March last year”.  

An official investigation blamed North Korea’s military intelligence agency for the attack, which completely shut down the networks of key TV broadcasters KBS, MBC and YTN, and crippled operations at three banks.  Access records and the malicious codes used in the attack in South Korea pointed to the North’s military Reconnaissance General Bureau, the Korea Internet and Security Agency (KISA) said, calling it a “premeditated, well-planned cyber attack by North Korea”.  

Professor Lim Jong-In of Korea University Graduate School of Information Security said the North has created its own army of cyber experts, around 1,000 of which work in China, who can “turn into hackers at a moment’s notice and mount attacks”.

Experts in Tokyo said the US determination that North Korea was behind the cyber attack would certainly complicate and could well derail Mr Abe’s hopes of any breakthrough in the talks over the fate of the Japanese abductees.

“It’s extremely delicate for Japan in this situation, given how North Korea is vilified as the enemy,” said Mr Jeffrey Kingston, director of Asian studies at Temple University’s Japan campus. “It’s very difficult to continue dialogue.”

Mr Abe has made finding out answers to the fate of Japanese citizens abducted to help train North Korean spies a signature issue throughout his political career. In July, Japan eased some sanctions on Pyongyang in return for its promise to reopen a probe into the issue.

The government of China, North Korea’s only major ally, has yet to respond to the US call for cooperation in international efforts against cyber crime, but a state-run newspaper denounced Sony’s comedy woven around a fictional plot to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as senseless and arrogant.The Global Times, a tabloid run by the Chinese Communist Party’s official People’s Daily, wrote in an editorial published on Saturday that any civilised country would oppose hacker attacks or terror threats.

“But a movie like “The Interview”...is nothing to be proud of for Hollywood and US society,” it said in its English-language edition, a publication aimed at a global rather than domestic audience.

“The vicious mocking of Kim is only a result of senseless cultural arrogance.”

Sony pulled the movie after hackers broke into its computer network and leaked thousands of documents and unreleased movies on the Internet.The FBI said North Korea was to blame for the devastating strike. US President Barack Obama said North Korea appeared to have acted alone, but Washington has sought help from Japan, China, South Korea and Russia in combating similar attacks.