Sony hack opens door

As North Korea ratchets up its threats against the United States, promising “serious” consequences if Washington rejects its offer to help investigate the cyberattack against Sony Pictures, a local analyst is warning that terror groups worldwide now have an incentive to target major American companies.

“The message Sony is sending is that if you attack a company in the West, there’s a good chance that you’re going to get what you’re demanding,” said Max Abrahms, a terrorism expert and professor at Northeastern University. “The last thing any target of a terrorist attack wants to do is incentivize the same behavior in the future.”

The key problem with Sony’s decision to cave to hackers’ demands, Abrahms said, is that “Terrorists tend to learn from each other and tend to mimic any behavior that yields the desired response.”

“Any rational terrorist group, based on the Sony case, would have a good reason to go after American companies,” he said. “They’re realizing that companies are far more likely than governments to grant concessions to terrorists.”

U.S. officials blame North Korea for the hack that resulted in the disclosure of tens of thousands of confidential Sony emails and business files, and escalated to threats of terror attacks against movie theaters that led Sony to cancel the Christmas Day release of “The Interview,” a comedy about a plot to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

An unidentified North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman in Pyongyang proposed a joint investigation with the U.S. yesterday, saying the North knows how to prove it’s not responsible for the hacking.

“The U.S. should bear in mind that it will face serious consequences in case it rejects our proposal for joint investigation and presses for what it called countermeasures while finding fault with” North Korea, the spokesman said in a statement carried by Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency.

In Washington, a spokesman for the White House National Security Council, Mark Stroh, said the U.S. stands by the FBI’s conclusion that “the North Korean government is responsible for this destructive attack.”

“The government of North Korea has a long history of denying responsibility for destructive and provocative actions,” Stroh said. “If the North Korean government wants to help, they can admit their culpability and compensate Sony for the damages this attack caused.”