Obama Imposes Sanctions on North Korea for Hack

U.S. Takes Action After Sony Pictures Attack
Obama Imposes Sanctions on North Korea for Hack

(This story has been updated.)

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Holding North Korea responsible for the cyber-attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment, President Barack Obama imposed sanctions on 10 individuals and three entities associated with the North Korean government.

On Jan. 2, the president ordered the seizing of property held by these individuals and organizations in the United States, a mostly symbolic action because few, if any, assets of those named in the order are likely located in the U.S. The U.S. government did not link any of the individuals sanctioned directly to the Sony cyber-assault.

The organizations facing sanctions include the Reconnaissance General Bureau, North Korea's primary intelligence agency; Korea Mining Development Training Corp., or KOMID, North Korea's primary arms dealer; and Korea Tangun Trading Corp., the North Korean agency primarily responsible for the procurement of commodities and technologies to support its defense research and development programs.

Initial Step

"Our response to North Korea's attack against Sony Pictures Entertainment will be proportional, and will take place at a time and in a manner of our choosing," a White House statement says. "Today's actions are the first aspect of our response."

An administration official told The New York Times: "The administration felt that it had to do something to stay on point. This is certainly not the end for them."

The executive order issued by Obama authorizes Treasury Secretary Jack Lew to impose the sanctions. Lew, in a statement, says the sanctions are driven by the government's commitment to hold North Korea accountable for its destructive and destabilizing conduct.

"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, and to respond to attempts to undermine our values or threaten the national security of the United States," Lew says. "The actions taken today ... will further isolate key North Korean entities and disrupt the activities of close to a dozen critical North Korean operatives. We will continue to use this broad and powerful tool to expose the activities of North Korean government officials and entities."

But Martin Libicki, a Rand Corp. senior management scientist, says he doubts the sanctions will have much of an impact in changing North Korea's actions. "North Korea is already under many sanctions; adding this one is not a particularly dramatic sign," says Libicki, whose research at the think tank focuses on IT and national security.

"I don't think a tit-for-tat response is something we should look for," he says. "... North Korea is not going to leave other people's networks alone because we do not respond, or because we do respond at the levels of response we've seen so far. They may - and probably do - have something more in the works that was initiated prior to the Sony hack."

Individuals Sanctioned

The Treasury Department says the 10 North Korean government officials being sanctioned are:

  • Kil Jong Hun and Kim Kwang Yon who represent the southern African interests of KOMID;
  • Jang Song Chol, who represents KOMID in Russia and works with individuals in Sudan who are procuring materials from him.
  • Kim Yong Chol and Jang Yong Son, KOMID representatives in Iran;
  • Kim Kyu, KOMID's external affairs officer;
  • Ryu Jin and Kang Ryong, KOMID officials in Syria;
  • Kim Kwang Chun, a Korea Tangun Trading representative in Shenyang, China; and
  • Yu Kwang Ho.

North Korea's foreign ministry characterizes the sanctions as being "groundless, stirring up bad blood towards it" and "hardening its will and resolution to defend the sovereignty of the country," according to a Reuters report, citing North Korea's KCNA news agency. "The persistent and unilateral action taken by the White House to slap 'sanctions' against the DPRK (North Korea) patently proves that it is still not away from inveterate repugnancy and hostility toward the DPRK."

About the Author

Eric Chabrow

Eric Chabrow

Retired Executive Editor, GovInfoSecurity

Chabrow, who retired at the end of 2017, hosted and produced the semi-weekly podcast ISMG Security Report and oversaw ISMG's GovInfoSecurity and InfoRiskToday. He's a veteran multimedia journalist who has covered information technology, government and business.

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