Lately, many media outlets have labeled the attack on Sony “cyber terrorism.” However, one important piece is missing to truly describe this event as terrorism. In the military, we define terrorism as “The unlawful use of violence or threat of violence, often motivated by religious, political, or other ideological beliefs, to instill fear and coerce governments or societies in pursuit of goals that are usually political.” (Joint Publication 1-02). The question is, what are the political goals for an attack on Sony?
There is no doubt that this action is an unlawful use of violence. Destruction of the network by wiping the system provides the evidence of a malicious attack, and threatening to release confidential information with the intent to cause harm to individuals constitutes cyber terrorism. What is unclear is the motivation for the attack. It doesn’t appear to be religious. Labeling the breach as politically motivated doesn’t seem right either. Even with the North Korean theory, the political objectives aren’t obvious. Nor is there strong ideological belief that is being espoused. It might be different if the attackers wanted to support an open society, or expose corruption in the industry, but neither of these seem to be the objective.
What makes this attack so different from others, is the fact the attackers continue to publicize the event, and even openly mock law enforcement’s efforts to reveal the perpetrators. By contrast, in both the Saudi Aramco attack and Dark Seoul attacks, the hackers remained anonymous to avoid reprisal. The criminals responsible for the Sony breach seem to have have no fear of being caught. Unlike most hacking groups, this set continues to promote the attack and enjoy the publicity. The same gang may soon be exploiting another ripe target to stay in the news. Stay tuned for updates.