Despite a recent FBI briefing attempting to convince the Bureau that evidence was flimsy, the White House is standing strong behind its decision to point the Sony Hack finger squarely on North Korea. To prove it, Obama just hit North Korea with tightened sanctions. Because now we're really not doing business with them.
The new sanctions cited by the White House apply to three different entities and 10 individuals who it claims are "agencies or officials of the North Korean government." This includes North Korea's primary intelligence organization, the Reconnaissance General Bureau, and officials in Russia, Iran, and China.
Of course, both the US and the UN have been slapping North Korea with various sanctions for years, so this particular executive order is likely more symbolic than anything. What's interesting, though, is the fact that the White House is calling this particular move its "first aspect of our response" for the attack on Sony Pictures, which implies that its denying any involvement in the DDoS attacks on North Korea's internet just a few weeks ago.
It also means that there is apparently more to come. According to Secretary of the Treasury Jacob J. Lew:
Even as the FBI continues its investigation into the cyber-attack against Sony Pictures Entertainment, these steps underscore that we will employ a broad set of tools to defend U.S. businesses and citizens.
Of course, those hit with today's sanctions aren't necessarily suspected of any involvement in the hack on Sony. Rather, it seems to simply be a way of applying further pressure on the North Korean government in general.
Whether or not North Korea is actually to blame for the attack is another issue entirely. Security firms have been citing a lack of public evidence, while the White House and FBI continue to assert that the sort of sensitive evidence that persuaded them can't be made public. According to one official, "It's a first step. The administration felt that it had to do something to stay on point. This is certainly not the end for them."
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