U.S. Treasury Imposes Sanctions Against North Korea Following Sony Cyber Attack

Department of Treasury "escalates financial pressure" against the North Korean government and their key economic holdings

President Barack Obama holds a press conference during which he discussed Sony Pictures' decision not to release 'The Interview' in wake of the alleged North Korean hacking scandal at The White House on December 19, 2014 in Washington, DC. Credit: Leigh Vogel/WireImage

After confirming that North Korea was behind the crippling Sony cyber attack, President Barack Obama promised to levy a "proportional and appropriate" response for the hack. The U.S. Department of the Treasury revealed the first wave of that action Friday, issuing sanctions against the government of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) as well as some DPRK-controlled businesses.

In the Executive Order, the United States "escalates financial pressure" against the Reconnaissance General Bureau (North Korea’s primary intelligence organization), the Korea Tangun Trading Corporation and the Korea Mining Development Trading Corporation (North Korea’s primary arms dealer and main exporter of goods and equipment related to ballistic missiles and conventional weapons). The Executive Order also sanctions 10 individuals affiliated with the DPRK.

"The order is not targeted at the people of North Korea, but rather is aimed at the government of North Korea and its activities that threaten the United States and others," Obama said in a letter to Congress. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest added that the sanctions were "the first aspect" of the President's response to the cyber attack. "We take seriously North Korea’s attack that aimed to create destructive financial effects on a U.S. company and to threaten artists and other individuals with the goal of restricting their right to free expression," Earnest said (via Mashable).

The FBI first revealed that North Korea was "centrally involved" for the Sony hack, since the studio produced Seth Rogen's The Interview, a comedy that satirically demythologized and assassinated North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong-un. After dispersing Sony Pictures' upcoming films and private emails, the hackers – known as the Guardians of Peace – threatened terrorist acts against any movie theatres that screened The Interview on its Christmas theatrical release, which caused Sony to pull the film entirely.

After President Obama called Sony's withdrawal of The Interview "a mistake," the studio quickly brainstormed avenues in which to release the day on Christmas, settling on indie cinemas and a video-on-demand release. Meanwhile, the DPRK has consistently denied a role in the Sony cyber attack and have accused the United States for internet outages in North Korea.

"Today's actions are driven by our 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," said Secretary of the Treasury Jacob J. Lew in a statement.

"The actions taken today under the authority of the President's new Executive Order will further isolate key North Korean entities and disrupt the activities of close to a dozen critical North Korean operatives," Lew contined. "We will continue to use this broad and powerful tool to expose the activities of North Korean government officials and entities."

The sanctions come even as doubt grows among the cyber security community whether North Korea was involved in the hack, Variety reports. Security firm Norse Corp. writes that their investigation suggests that the Sony cyber attack was an inside job perpetrated by a recently fired longtime Sony employee and "pro-piracy hacktivists." Norse Corp. shared their findings with the FBI. However, a spokesman for the White House’s National Security Council said, "The administration stands by the FBI assessment."