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Obama: North Korea's hack not war, but 'cybervandalism'

Story highlights

  • Obama says U.S. will review whether to put North Korea back on sponsors of terrorism list
  • He stands by his criticism of Sony's decision to cancel film's release
  • Sony executive said he was "disappointed" in Obama's Friday comments
  • Human Rights Foundation plans to drop copies of "The Interview" over North Korea

Washington (CNN)President Barack Obama says he doesn't consider North Korea's hack of Sony Pictures "an act of war."

"It was an act of cybervandalism," Obama said in an interview with CNN's Candy Crowley that aired Sunday on "State of the Union."
    Obama said that the United States is going review whether to put North Korea back on a list of states that sponsor terrorism.
    "We've got very clear criteria as to what it means for a state to sponsor terrorism. And we don't make those judgments just based on the news of the day," he said. "We look systematically at what's been done and based on those facts, we'll make those determinations in the future."
    The President stuck by his criticism of Sony's decision to cancel its plans to release the movie "The Interview," which includes a cartoonish depiction of the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, after the country threatened attacks against theaters that showed it.
    Obama said in a Friday news conference that Sony made "a mistake," and that he wished the company had called him first. That led Sony Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton to tell CNN that Obama and the public "are mistaken as to what actually happened." He blamed movie theater companies that opted not to show the film, saying they forced Sony's hand.
    Obama shot back, saying: "I was pretty sympathetic to the fact that they have business considerations that they got to make. Had they talked to me directly about this decision, I might have called the movie theater chains and distributors and asked them what the story was."
    The President told Crowley that his problem wasn't with Sony specifically, but with the precedent the company's decision set.
    The FBI on Friday pinned blame on North Korea for a hack into Sony's computer systems. Obama said both foreign governments and hackers outside government present cyberthreats that are part of the modern business landscape.
    "If we set a precedent in which a dictator in another country can disrupt through cyber, a company's distribution chain or its products, and as a consequence we start censoring ourselves, that's a problem," Obama said.
    "And it's a problem not just for the entertainment industry, it's a problem for the news industry," he said. "CNN has done critical stories about North Korea. What happens if in fact there is a breach in CNN's cyberspace? Are we going to suddenly say, are we not going to report on North Korea?
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    "So the key here is not to suggest that Sony was a bad actor. It's making a broader point that all of us have to adapt to the possibility of cyberattacks, we have to do a lot more to guard against them."
    Lynton, speaking to CNN's Fareed Zakaria, said he was "disappointed" in what Obama said Friday.
    "We have not given in. And we have not backed down. We have always had every desire to have the American public see this movie," Lynton said.
    But that's not what the company initially said after canceling the film's release.
    On Wednesday night, a studio spokesperson said simply, "Sony Pictures has no further release plans for the film."
    The nonprofit Human Rights Foundation is pushing a campaign called #HackThemBack, inviting "those who support freedom and democracy" to "help North Korean defectors amplify, refine, and intensify efforts to break the monopoly of information" that the regime imposes on its people.
    The group also plans to buy copies of "The Interview" and include them in balloon drops over North Korea, founder Thor Halvorssen said.