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U.S. Officials Say North Korea Responsible for Sony Cyber Attack

The White House may formally accuse North Korea of launching a cyberterrorism attack on the Hollywood studio

2 min read
U.S. Officials Say North Korea Responsible for Sony Cyber Attack
Photo: KCNA/Xinhua/Alamy

Update, 19 December: The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation says “has enough information to conclude that the North Korean government is responsible for these actions.” President Barack Obama told reporters that “we will respond proportionally and we will respond in a place and time and manner that we choose.” He also called Sony’s decision to cancel release of the “The Interview” a mistake.

The idea of North Korea hacking a Hollywood studio in retaliation for making a comedy film about an assassination attempt on North Korean leader Kim Jong un might have sounded absurd at first. But U.S. officials say they have uncovered evidence of North Korea’s involvement in the cyberattack on Sony Pictures and subsequent public leaking of a slew of internal corporate files ranging from embarassing executive e-mails to the upcoming slate of unreleased films.

News publications such as the New York Times cited “senior administration officials” as saying President Obama’s administration was debating whether to formally accuse North Korea of launching the equivalent of a cyberterrorism attack. The Sony Pictures hack recently took on an even darker tone when the purported hackers invoked the memory of the 11 Sept. 2001 terrorist attacks and threatened attacks on movie theaters if Sony went ahead with the theatrical release of its comedy film “The Interview.”

Such threats led all four major theater chains in the U.S. to cancel showings of “The Interview” and prompted Sony Pictures to officially put the film’s release plans on hold, according to Deadline. The chill descending over the freedom of artistic expression may be felt for a long time in Hollywood: an untitled thriller set in North Korea involving director Gore Verbinski and actor Steve Carell has also been scrapped.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest deflected questions about North Korea’s involvement at a press briefing held today (18 December), but President Obama is scheduled to speak during his usual end-of-year press briefing tomorrow. Earnest only described the cyberattack as a “serious national security matter” involving a “sophisticated actor.” He also confirmed that the U.S. Department of Justice is working with the FBI on the investigation.

Attributing responsibility for cyberattacks is notoriously difficult. According to the New York Times, the forensic evidence from the Sony Pictures hack suggests the attackers used commonly available commercial tools and techniques found in previous cyberattacks on a Saudi Arabian oil company and on South Korean banks and media companies. Experts also suspect insider help because of the names of Sony servers and administrative credentials found in the malware code that infiltrated Sony’s computer network. (See IEEE Spectrum’s previous story “How Not to Be Sony Pictures.”)

The New York Times added that the U.S. National Security Agency has attempted to penetrate North Korea’s computer networks to keep track of the country’s cyber activities. But many of North Korea’s cyberattacks originate from China, a country that also has swarms of hackers for hire. Criminal hacker organizations also exist in many other countries worldwide.

U.S. officials potentially face a dilemma in deciding how to respond to North Korea, if they decide the Sony hack constitutes a serious act on the level of something like cyberterrorism. Coincidentally, Hollywood’s Universal Studios recently released a second trailer for its upcoming Michael Mann thriller “Blackhat,” which stars Chris Hemsworth as a hacker helping U.S. and Chinese law enforcement track down a cyberterrorist.

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Metamaterials Could Solve One of 6G’s Big Problems

There’s plenty of bandwidth available if we use reconfigurable intelligent surfaces

12 min read
An illustration depicting cellphone users at street level in a city, with wireless signals reaching them via reflecting surfaces.

Ground level in a typical urban canyon, shielded by tall buildings, will be inaccessible to some 6G frequencies. Deft placement of reconfigurable intelligent surfaces [yellow] will enable the signals to pervade these areas.

Chris Philpot

For all the tumultuous revolution in wireless technology over the past several decades, there have been a couple of constants. One is the overcrowding of radio bands, and the other is the move to escape that congestion by exploiting higher and higher frequencies. And today, as engineers roll out 5G and plan for 6G wireless, they find themselves at a crossroads: After years of designing superefficient transmitters and receivers, and of compensating for the signal losses at the end points of a radio channel, they’re beginning to realize that they are approaching the practical limits of transmitter and receiver efficiency. From now on, to get high performance as we go to higher frequencies, we will need to engineer the wireless channel itself. But how can we possibly engineer and control a wireless environment, which is determined by a host of factors, many of them random and therefore unpredictable?

Perhaps the most promising solution, right now, is to use reconfigurable intelligent surfaces. These are planar structures typically ranging in size from about 100 square centimeters to about 5 square meters or more, depending on the frequency and other factors. These surfaces use advanced substances called metamaterials to reflect and refract electromagnetic waves. Thin two-dimensional metamaterials, known as metasurfaces, can be designed to sense the local electromagnetic environment and tune the wave’s key properties, such as its amplitude, phase, and polarization, as the wave is reflected or refracted by the surface. So as the waves fall on such a surface, it can alter the incident waves’ direction so as to strengthen the channel. In fact, these metasurfaces can be programmed to make these changes dynamically, reconfiguring the signal in real time in response to changes in the wireless channel. Think of reconfigurable intelligent surfaces as the next evolution of the repeater concept.

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