Obama promises response on Sony hack, says pulling movie was mistake

His strong words came hours after the FBI said North Korea was responsible for the attack on Sony

President Obama believes Sony made a mistake in canceling release of "The Interview" following a major cyberattack and said the U.S. is prepared to respond to the attack, but he wouldn't say when or how.

"We cannot have a society in which some dictator someplace can start imposing censorship here in the United States," he said.

Obama's strong words, at a scheduled year-end news conference at the White House, came just two hours after the FBI said it had determined North Korea was responsible for the attack on Sony that included widespread leaks of sensitive company documents and employee information.

"I think they made a mistake," he said, referring to Sony's decision earlier this week to cancel the movie's release in theaters, on DVD and Internet sites. "The Interview" is a satirical movie about entertainment reporters sent to North Korea on a secret mission to kill its leader.

Sony's decision could set a precedent for future responses when an unpopular documentary of news report is being prepared, for instance, he said. Obama also said it could raise the Orwellian prospect of self-censorship.

"That's not who we are, that's not what America is about."

As for a possible U.S. response to the attack, Obama said his government is prepared to act.

"They caused a lot of damage and we will respond," he said. "We will respond proportionally, and we will respond in a place and time and manner we choose."

With that response, he left his options open for everything from a counterattack on North Korea's cyberinfrastructure -- what little there is -- or through other avenues such as trade sanctions. But North Korea is already under severe sanctions and has shown resilience despite them.

Looking ahead to 2015, it appears the Sony attack will put cybersecurity on the national and international agenda.

Obama said he's going to look to Congress to work on "strong" cybersecurity laws that allow for closer public- and private-sector information sharing.

"We've been coordinating with the private sector, but a lot more needs to be done," he said.

The U.S. will also turn to the international community to come up with "rules of the road" for cyberspace.

"Right now it's sort of a wild west," he said. "If we don't put in place the kind of architecture that can prevent this type of attack from taking place, this is not just going to be affecting movies, this is going to be affecting our entire economy in ways that are extraordinarily significant."

Martyn Williams covers mobile telecoms, Silicon Valley and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Martyn on Twitter at @martyn_williams. Martyn's e-mail address is martyn_williams@idg.com

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