The U.S. has been spying on North Korea for years

Despite malware that tracked North Korean hackers, the gov't still didn't see the Sony hack coming

Technology trends and news by Steven Loeb
January 19, 2015
Short URL:

After the United States government officially pointed the finger at North Korea for the unpredidented hacking of Sony Pictures in November, some were skeptical that the country was truly behind the attack. They pointed to a lack of evidence linking North Korea to the breach, and speculated that it was more likely a disgruntled employees, and not the work of a dictator halfway around the world.

Well, now we have some more insight into just how the government says it knows that North Korea was, in fact, behind it. That is because, you see, the United States has been hacking into North Korea's systems for the past five years.

A newly disclosed N.S.A. document, first reported by the New York Times on Sunday, shows that the government has had a program in place to , with the help of South Korea.

"There was a project I was working with last year with regard to the South Korean CNE program. While we aren't super intererested in SK (things changed a bit when they srated targeting us a bit more), we were interested in North Korea and SK puts a lot of resources against them," the document says. "At that point our access to NK was next to norhing but we were able to make some inroads to the SK CNE program."

The program eventually expanded, and became an effort that allowed the United States to "place malware that could track the internal workings of many of the computers and networks used by the North’s hackers," which number more than 6,000 altogether. 

It turned into what is described as “early warning radar," and the evidence gleamed from the program was used to persuade President Obama to officially blame North Korea for the attack, officials and experts, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told the Times.

Now, you might be wondering how, if the NSA was monitoring the country's network, why it didn't warn Sony that such an attack was coming. After all, the program was specifically picking up signals of what North Korean hackers were going to do before they did it.

That is because, apparently, nobody knew about the Sont hack. Or, at least, that's what we're being told as of now.

U.S. intelligence agencies did not have any warning of the Sony hacking through its monitoring of North Korean computers, according to NBCNews, and that the government did not learn about the breach until Sony alerted the FBI's cyber unit in late November.

North Korea, of course, has denied that it had any role in the hacking of Sony, of course, even going so far as to propose that it enter into a joint investigation with the United States to find the real hackers. The country even, as it often does, threatened violence if that proposal wasn't accepted, warning of "grave consequences.

Not only does the U.S. government unequivoocally blame North Korea for the breach, it also believes that that North Korea may have had some help.

Investigators believe that the country likely hired hackers from outside the country to help pull off the attack, as North Korea does not have the capabilities to do something this sophisticated, and that investigators are looking into whether or not Pyongyang "contracted out" the work. 

(Image source:

Related news