Did the US just take out North Korea’s internet?

Old weapon, new war
Old weapon, new war
Image: Reuters/KCNA
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“We will respond,” US president Barack Obama declared at his final scheduled press conference for 2014 last Friday. He was referring to the hacking of Sony Pictures, which the US government blames on North Korea. “We will respond proportionately, and in a space, time and manner that we choose,” Obama added.

Inevitably, then many observers are speculating that the US is behind the attacks today that have closed down North Korea’s internet access, as the North Korea tech blog reported this morning. There have been similar reports from several other news outlets including the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg.

The White House and State Department aren’t commenting on the reports.

Despite the timing, this is not necessarily the work of the US. China has launched an investigation into the attack, and as Vox’s Max Fisher points out, Beijing could be trying to prevent more mischief by Pyongyang. (Although it stands by North Korea, China is often embarrassed by the behavior of its neighbor.) Other theories include the idea that North Korea has taken down its internet voluntarily, to prevent an attack, or that this is the work of cyber-vigilanties.

Since very few people in North Korea have access to the internet—many don’t even know it exists—it’s not clear what shutting it down actually means.

One thing is clear, if it wasn’t already: we are now in a scary new era of international cyber-warfare.