Sony investigators had 'competing hypothesis team'

U.S. officials continued their quest Thursday to convince skeptics of North Korea’s guilt in the Sony Pictures Entertainment hack, according to multiple reports.

Representatives from the Justice Department, White House and FBI reiterated their confidence in the government’s assertion North Korea sponsored the cyberattack in retaliation for Sony’s comedy, “The Interview,” about an American plot to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.


The officials were speaking at a cybersecurity conference at Fordham University School of Law.

The digital assault on Sony shut down the studio’s computer network, exposed troves of internal documents and caused the company to briefly cancel the release of “The Interview” amid the hackers’ threats targeting theaters showing the film.

After the FBI and intelligence agencies started to believe Pyongyang had directed the attack, Joseph Demarest, assistant director of the FBI’s cyber division, said the government still held off on final judgement, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Investigators created a “competing hypothesis team ... not only in the FBI but in the intelligence community” to present the best case for an “alternative explanation or a different suspect that we should be looking at.”

In the end, all signs pointed to North Korea, Demarest said.

Independent cyber experts have promoted several alternative theories, primarily that an insider or ideologically motivated hackers were behind the hit.

“This notion of an ‘insider’ is not supported by anything we see,” Demarest told reporters following the event.

Advocating for such theories is “counterproductive,” said Lisa Monaco, President Obama’s homeland security adviser.

"If you're going to be making statements about the activities of a nation-state having crossed a threshold into very destructive and coercive action, a, you'd better be right, and b, you want to be able to do so with ... people having confidence in your judgment," Monaco added, ABC News reported.

Top intelligence officials made similar arguments Wednesday during the same conference. FBI Director James Comey disclosed new links between the suspected hackers and North Korean IP addresses that he argued reveal an incriminating connection.

But some security experts remain wary, explaining that the FBI has a history of dishonesty in these cases and calling for the bureau to release the actual IP addresses themselves.