3 Jan 2015

New US sanctions against North Korea

3:09 pm on 3 January 2015

The US has imposed new sanctions on North Korea in response to a cyber-attack against Sony Pictures Entertainment.

Barack Obama speaking with reporters at the White House on 19 December (local time).

Barack Obama spoke to reporters at the White House about the cyber-attack late last month. Photo: AFP

President Barack Obama signed an executive order on Friday (local time) allowing sanctions on three North Korean organisations and 10 individuals, the BBC reported.

The White House said the move was a response to North Korea's "provocative, destabilising, and repressive actions".

US sanctions are already in place over North Korea's nuclear programme.

But the latest actions are believed to be the first time the US has moved to punish any country for cyber-attacks on a US company.

Among those named in the sanctions were:

White House officials told reporters the move was in response to the Sony hack but that the targets of the sanctions were not directly involved.

Instead, the sanctions are designed to further isolate North Korea's defence industry as deterrent for future cyber-attacks, the BBC reported.

The FBI and President Obama have previously said they believe North Korea was behind the cyber-attack.

North Korea denies involvement in the hack, and some cyber-security experts have also cast doubt on its guilt.

However, a senior White House official said it was extremely rare for the US to attribute cyber-attacks, and it was only done so because of the destructive nature of the attack, and because the White House saw it as "crossing a threshold".

The Interview opened in some US cinemas on Christmas Day.

A small number of independent cinemas did screen the film after its nationwide release was cancelled after threats. Photo: AFP

Hack effect

Sony was embarrassed after a group calling itself Guardians of Peace leaked data from its computers, exposing emails and personal details.

The group later threatened cinema chains planning to screen Sony's satirical North Korea comedy, The Interview.

Oblique references to the 9/11 terror attacks prompted the cancellation of the film's nationwide release. A small number of independent cinemas did screen the film, and it was released online.

Announcing Friday's sanctions, the US said the apparent effort to stifle the movie release was part of the justification for the new restrictions.

"We take seriously North Korea's attack that aimed to create destructive financial effects on a US company and to threaten artists and other individuals with the goal of restricting their right to free expression," the White House said in a statement.

"Today's actions are the first aspect of our response."

North Korea has blamed the US for lengthy internet outages in the country last week.

Officials would not say whether the statement that sanctions were the "first aspect" of US rebuttal was a denial of responsibility for the recent North Korean internet outages, but suggested Pyongyang could have orchestrated the outages.

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