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By Richard Serrano, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — The FBI on Friday blamed the government of North Korea for causing the cybersecurity breach of Sony Pictures Entertainment that has cost the company tens of millions of dollars.

The government of Kim Jong Un posed “one of the gravest national security dangers to the United States,” the FBI statement said.

Though experts had previously pointed to North Korea as the source of the breach and U.S. intelligence officials had quietly confirmed that assessment, the announcement is the first official U.S. acknowledgement that the North Korean government was involved in stealing Sony emails, leaking unreleased movies and destroying other computer records.

The FBI announcement sets the stage for a possible confrontation between the U.S. and the small, isolated country.

The hacking came as Sony was prepared to release The Interview, which depicts an assassination plot against Kim.

After many U.S. theater owners said they would not show the picture in response to threats by hackers to attack venues exhibiting it, Sony canceled its scheduled Christmas Day release of the film.

“North Korea’s actions were intended to inflict significant harm on a U.S. business and suppress the right of American citizens to express themselves,” the FBI said in a lengthy statement. “Such acts of intimidation fall outside the bounds of acceptable state behavior.”

The bureau did not detail what steps might now be taken against North Korea. But, it said, “the FBI will identify, pursue, and impose costs and consequences on individuals, groups, or nation states who use cyber means to threaten the United States or U.S. interests.”

Government officials and outside experts have said that the U.S. has relatively few good options in responding to the attack because North Korea, a small, extremely poor country, has few computer networks that could be targeted. At the same time, North Korea has an extremely large military that could pose a grave danger to South Korea, a U.S. ally, if the country’s leaders felt threatened.

For several years, top FBI officials and other federal law enforcement authorities have warned that cybercrime presents a severe threat to the United States. What happened to Sony, they now say, is an example of how bad a cyberattack can be.

In a separate statement, Jeh Johnson, the Secretary of Homeland Security, said that after the attack on Sony, “every CEO should take this opportunity to assess their company’s cybersecurity.”

In this instance a large corporation was hacked. But officials warn that other targets could be the power grid or major banks and financial institutions, attacks that could inflict widespread harm to the country’s infrastructure and economy.

AFP Photo

This story has been updated.

Jeff Danziger lives in New York City. He is represented by CWS Syndicate and the Washington Post Writers Group. He is the recipient of the Herblock Prize and the Thomas Nast (Landau) Prize. He served in the US Army in Vietnam and was awarded the Bronze Star and the Air Medal. He has published eleven books of cartoons and one novel. Visit him at DanzigerCartoons.