We're going to assume that the FBI is right and North Korea launched a cyberattack on Sony Pictures.
For a lot of reasons, that conclusion makes sense, not just on the technical side, which the FBI relied on, but also because it tends to match the weird, paranoid, "other world" thinking of the hermit kingdom (a term meaning any nation that has walled itself off from the outside world).
North Korea has nuclear weapons and a limited delivery system capability. But they know using those would get them stomped off the face of the earth (at least, we hope they understand that -- sometimes it's hard to tell just how much reality the leadership there understands).
But a cyber attack is something different. They've done it to South Korean banks, media and government. They've now done it to Sony pictures and promised to take down more "citadels" of America. In many ways, it could be argued that it was an act of war, and we have the right to declare such (but then, we've been at war with North Korea since 1950 so that actually won't change things). Obama, however, called it simply cybervandalism, thus dropping Kim Jon-Un from the level of international villain to juvenile delinquent.
In response to North Korea's cyberattack on Sony, Obama plans -- officially -- to formally put North Korea on the list of nations that support terrorism, although we're not sure it's possible to impose any more sanctions on that isolated nation.
Unofficially, there's a good chance we may have used our own cyberwarfare capabilities to shut down the internet in North Korea, which essentially is only available to the ruling elite. There's even a remote possibility we got some outside help, or at least acquiescence, from China to do it.
Increasingly, nations around the world are developing cyber warriors and turning them loose to either spy on or interfere with some other country. Russia's annexations of the Crimea and portions of the former Soviet republic of Georgia were both marked by significant cyber attacks. The U.S. and Israel are widely believed to have developed a really nasty virus to shut down, at least for a while, Iran's nuclear program.
The world is increasingly dependent on the internet. Yet the infrastructure needed to make a cyber attack is extraordinarily cheap (less than the price of a single tank, or with a really good hacker on your side, less than the price of a rifle). Entire systems of commerce, the power grid, transportation, could be brought to a screeching halt. It's tough to prevent it.
But right now, a cyber attack is not considered the same as dropping a bomb on you, although the effects could be even worse. What is needed, however, is an international convention, defining what constitutes legitimate spy operations and what constitutes an act of war if some nation decides to hack the systems of another nation.
Hacking is no longer a harmless gag. Cyber criminals and cyber terrorists need to face the strongest possible penalties (most people who've been hacked would suggest hanging -- by a USB cable).
But we need worldwide agreement on what that means and what constitutes an acceptable response to a cyber attack from another nation -- ranging from internet isolation to dropping real bombs on the other guy. The laws of war need to be expanded and clarified for this new form of battlefield.
-- Kelly Everitt