Media reports say the U.S. has determined that North Korea is behind the hacking of Sony Pictures, which on Wednesday canceled the release of a film about a fictional plot to assassinate Pyongyang's leader, Kim Jong Un.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, U.S. officials said investigators have connected North Korea to the cyberattack, which has resulted in the leak of tens of thousands of documents and has escalated to threats of terrorist attacks over the film "The Interview."
It is not clear how investigators made the determination or how the White House will respond. The National Security Council said the FBI is leading the investigation and will "provide an update at the appropriate time."
In a statement Wednesday, Sony said it is scrapping the December 25 release of "The Interview," after several major theater chains chose not to show the film. The statement said Sony shared those safety concerns.
The so-called Guardians of Peace on Tuesday released a statement promising a "bitter fate" to those who see "The Interview," which had been set for nationwide release on Christmas Day.
In broken English, the brief statement invoked the September 11, 2001, attacks against the U.S. and warned potential movie-goers to "keep yourself distant" from theaters that show the film.
It also included another round of leaked emails that appear to be from Sony Pictures CEO Michael Lynton.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security said it is analyzing the message, but insisted "there is no credible intelligence to indicate an active plot against movie theaters."
Many in Hollywood took to Twitter to speak out against Sony's decision to scrap the movie's release. Comedian Jimmy Kimmel called the move "an un-American act of cowardice that validates terrorist's actions and sets a terrifying precedent." Actor Rob Lowe declared it an "utter and complete victory" for the hackers. Steve Carell, whose own film set in North Korea has been canceled, said it was a "sad day for creative expression."
Landmark Cinemas, a major U.S. movie theater chain, announced it was canceling Thursday's premiere of "The Interview" at its New York City location. Other major theater chains had also decided not to run the movie.
The film portrays Seth Rogen and James Franco as frustrated television journalists who are recruited by the CIA to assassinate the North Korean leader. In the film's climactic scene, Kim Jong Un's head is seen exploding when his helicopter is hit by a missile.
Actors cancel appearances
Rogen and Franco canceled their public appearances on Tuesday. Representatives for the actors did not immediately respond to requests for comment, according to Reuters.
Marc Maiffret, chief technology officer of cybersecurity firm BeyondTrust, said he believed it was the first time a film screening had been pulled in the wake of a high-profile cyber attack.
"If they pulled the premier because of the hacking, it's troubling. The moment you start reacting is the moment you give them more power," Maiffret told Reuters.
North Korea has strongly denounced the comedy as an act of terrorism and called for Sony to cancel the film. It has praised the hacking as a "righteous deed" but has said it is not involved.
It is not clear whether the Guardians of Peace, or GOP, is linked to Pyongyang, which is known to have a very capable group of Internet hackers at its disposal. Some suspect the hackers may have been aided by an insider at Sony.
Since the initial hacking attempt surfaced in late November, the group has released several rounds of sensitive, internal Sony e-mails that include everything from financial figures to squabbles between company executives and Hollywood actors.
The leaks also include private employee data and high-quality copies of yet to be released films.
Current and former Sony employees have started two class-action lawsuits against Sony over the leaks, claiming the company did not adequately protect its computer systems or warn its employees of the leaks.
Some material for this report came from Reuters.