TIME Sony

State Department Insists North Korea Behind Sony Hack

But the inside-job theory is gaining steam among outside experts

The U.S. government remains convinced the North Korean government was behind last month’s massive Sony hack, despite outside reports alleging an employee of the company may have been involved.

“The United States government has concluded that the North Korean government is responsible for this attack,” State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke told reporters. “And we stand by that conclusion. “

The Federal Bureau of Investigation, which is leading the investigation in conjunction with other U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies, announced on December 19 that the rogue regime was responsible for the hack. But doubts have simmered among outside security experts, in part because the government has acknowledged withholding some of the evidence that led to the conclusion.

The FBI said it would not share its complete analysis of the evidence pointing to North Korea. “The need to protect sensitive sources and methods precludes us from sharing all of this information,” the bureau said. Publicly, the FBI has indicated the attack mimicked previous North Korean intrusions on South Korean systems, adding the “data-deletion malware” used in the attack was similar to other code experts have attributed to North Korean-allied hackers and attempted to “ping” internet protocol addresses linked to the country.

As a result, private cybersecurity experts have expressed continued doubts about the link to North Korea. “We can’t find any indication that North Korea either ordered, masterminded or funded this attack,” Kurt Stammberger, a vice president at Norse security in California, told the Los Angeles Times. Stammberger told the paper that he had briefed law-enforcement officials on the theory that the massive hack was an inside job.

But the inside-job theory has holes of its own. Outside analysts have only been given limited access to the malware and details of the Sony hack, and have failed to offer conclusive evidence that the U.S. government’s conclusions are wrong. “It’s not that it’s not possible. It’s just that it’s ambiguous,” Mark Rasch, a former federal cybercrimes prosecutor, says of the inside-job theory.

A disgruntled IT employee might have both the motive and technical expertise to burrow deep into Sony’s computer networks and extract some 100 terabytes of data, a process that cyberexperts say may have taken weeks or months. The nature of the hack—which spilled personal information about thousands of people and made public the private emails of Sony executives—seemed calibrated to embarrass the company. In their initial email to Sony executives and public statement, the hackers made no mention of “The Interview.” And wiping Sony’s computers, Rasch says, “is a tactic we frequently see in attacks by disgruntled insiders.”

Cybersecurity experts have said from the start that an insider could be involved. “We don’t discount the possibility of an insider,” Jaime Blasco, director of labs at the California-based security firm AlienVault, told TIME earlier this month.

In his end-of-year press conference, President Obama himself placed the blame on North Korea and promised that the U.S. government would respond, but would not discuss the specifics.

“They caused a lot of damage, and we will respond,” Obama said. “We will respond proportionally, and we’ll respond in a place and time and manner that we choose.”

TIME justice

The Growing Republican Divide on Criminal Justice Reform

Charles Koch
Charles Koch, head of Koch Industries, on Feb 27, 2007. Bo Rader—Wichita Eagle/MCT via Getty Images

GOP leaders are embracing reform, but the base remains committed to the party's law-and-order roots

Charles Koch, the billionaire industrialist and Republican Party donor, says he will make criminal justice reform a major cause in 2015. “Over the next year, we are going to be pushing the issues key to this, which need a lot of work in this country,” Koch said in an interview with the Wichita Eagle.

Koch is a big spender—and something of a bogeyman among many liberals—so this made news. The “conservative mega-donor,” a Politico story blared, “is opening his wallet on an unexpected issue.”

Except it shouldn’t be unexpected. Koch is a libertarian, and libertarians have a history of opposing policies, such as mandatory minimum sentencing, that have made the U.S. incarceration rate the highest in the world. What’s perhaps more surprising is how Republican politicians from other parts of the spectrum are beginning to embrace criminal justice reform as well.

Over the past few years, GOP leaders in Washington and around the country have seized on justice reform as an issue that is both good policy and good politics. This view places them in conflict with many Republican voters, who still hew to the law-and-order beliefs on which the party had long been united. As a result, criminal-justice policy may emerge as one of the GOP’s key fault lines in 2015, as tensions simmer amid ongoing protests over police behavior and the presidential primary begins to heat up.

Virtually all of the likely 2016 Republican field supports some element of criminal-justice reform. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul is the most visible and least surprising proponent; as a libertarian-leaning conservative, he has staked his candidacy on the idea that the GOP must adjust its policies as the composition of the electorate changes. But Paul is hardly the only 2016 hopeful to plant a flag on the issue. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a former federal prosecutor, has called for an end to the “failed war on drugs” and signed legislation that sent some offenders to rehab instead of prison.

Rick Perry, the conservative governor of Texas, has been among the nation’s top prison reformers, even winning a national award for his support of drug courts as an alternative to incarceration. Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal, another Republican governor eyeing a 2016 bid, pushed legislation that would boost the state’s drug rehab program and make some nonviolent offenders eligible for early release.

Conservatives in Congress also have an appetite for reform. Paul Ryan produced a white paper on poverty that includes proposals like giving judges sentencing flexibility for nonviolent offenders and letting some inmates earn time off their prison stays for successful participation in programs. Mike Lee, a Republican senator from Utah and a Tea Party favorite, was one of the original sponsors, with liberal senators Dick Durbin and Pat Leahy, of a bill called the Smarter Sentencing Act, which attempts to curtail the draconian sentencing that has left some 2.2 million Americans behind bars. Among the Republicans who have since signed on: Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, another presidential hopeful.

Why have Republicans come around on law-and-order issues? Part of it is politics. As the country grows younger and more diverse, GOP leaders grasp the need to reach out to the minority groups who are disproportionately affected by the excesses of the justice system. It’s no surprise that Ryan, who knows firsthand how a lack of minority support can erode the viability of the Republican presidential ticket, spent time touring inner cities after 2012—nor that Paul, who hopes to avoid the same fate in ’16, launched a listening tour of his own.

There is also, Republicans note, a conservative case for overhauling a bloated prison system that drains resources and divides families. “You want to talk about real conservative governance? Shut prisons down. Save that money,” Perry said. A group called Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty inveighs against the failures of capital punishment, a process riddled with “waste, inaccuracy and bias” that “does not square up with conservative ideology.”

But the GOP base—which is older and whiter and wealthier than the average America, and thus less likely to be ensnared by the system—has been slower to embrace these ideas. And the bitter national debate catalyzed by the recent deaths of black men like Michael Brown and Eric Garner looks likely to impede the process.

Police behavior is a different thing than, say, eliminating mandatory minimums for nonviolent offenders—a point on which even the majority of Republicans agree. But the debate has revealed the degree to which law-and-order attitudes dominate in Republican circles.

Polls reveal that perspectives on police behavior break along partisan lines almost as sharply as racial ones. If Republicans are less likely to accept the prevalence of police misconduct (and they are), it follows that they would be less likely to buy into the notion that the system requires reform. In a recent Washington Post-ABC News survey, eight in 10 white Republicans said the Brown and Garner cases were isolated incidents, and a similar percentage say they are “confident that police treat blacks and whites equally.”

As long as support for cops stays sacrosanct among primary voters, criminal-justice reform is unlikely to become a campaign rallying cry during the GOP primary, even in a field that predominantly supports it. The Republican Party is evolving on criminal justice. But politicians will still talk on the trail about what voters want to hear.

TIME Crime

Why New York Cops Turned Their Backs on Mayor de Blasio

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio presser on NYPD Police Officers shot in Brooklyn
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks to the media during a news conference after two NYPD officers were shot, in Brooklyn, New York, Dec. 20, 2014. John Taggart—EPA

The Dec. 20 killing of two police officers made a bad relationship worse

The killing of two New York City police officers on Dec. 20 has turned the department’s simmering feud with city hall into a political firestorm that has implications for the national debate over policing.

After officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos were shot and killed Saturday afternoon in an unprovoked attack, cops and union leaders publicly rebuked Mayor Bill de Blasio, arguing his earlier remarks had stoked anti-police sentiment. That night, officers turned their backs on the mayor as he walked through the Brooklyn hospital where the officers were taken.

De Blasio on Monday called for a suspension of protests and political debate over policing so that the families of the fallen officers could grieve in peace. “We all see the world through the prism of our families,” the mayor said in somber remarks at a charity luncheon. “Our first obligation is to respect these families in mourning.”

The call for unity came two days after Patrick Lynch, the president of the city’s biggest police union, openly blamed the mayor for the tragedy. “There’s blood on many hands tonight,” he said. “That blood on the hands starts at the steps of City Hall in the office of the mayor.”

READ MORE New York City Mayor Calls for Pause to Protests

New York’s current mayor has never been on friendly terms with New York’s finest. The strained relationship dates back to de Blasio’s campaign, when he pledged to reform the city’s stop-and-frisk practices, which the police credited for a decrease in crime but detractors decry as institutionalized racial profiling. The promise, along with de Blasio’s own mixed-race family and his outreach to black communities, helped him win 42% of the African-American vote in a crowded Democratic primary that featured an experienced black candidate, former city comptroller Bill Thompson.

De Blasio tried to couch his opposition to stop-and-frisk as a criticism of a practice championed by outgoing mayor Michael Bloomberg, not of the officers carrying it out. And de Blasio has not departed from the policy of “broken windows” policing, which targets low-level street offenses as a way to prevent more serious crimes. But New York’ police force, who were celebrated for their heroic response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and lionized by non-liberal mayors for two decades, have bristled at his perceived slights. “Quite frankly, the mayor ran an anti-police campaign,” former police commissioner Ray Kelly told ABC on Sunday.

The tension exploded this month after a Staten Island grand jury declined to indict Daniel Pantaleo, the New York cop whose choke hold led to the death of Eric Garner. The incident became a new flashpoint for the nationwide protest movement against police violence ignited by the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. In a plea for calm, de Blasio spoke candidly about the fraught relationship between young black men and police, and recalled telling his own son, a mixed-race teenager with a towering Afro, about the dangers embedded in an encounter with a cop.

“I have had to talk to Dante for years about the dangers that he may face,” de Blasio said. “A good young man, law-abiding young man, who would never think to do anything wrong. And yet, because of a history that still hangs over us, the dangers he may face, we’ve had to literally train him—as families have all over this city for decades—in how to take special care in any encounter he has with the police officers who are there to protect him.”

READ MORE New York Mourns Slain Officers as Police Tighten Security

To many New Yorkers, the statement betrayed the mayor’s sympathy with the protesters who flooded the streets rather than the officers charged with keeping the peace. So did de Blasio’s announcement that in the wake of the Garner case, some 22,000 officers would be required to complete a three-day “retraining” course. “The way we go about policing has to change,” he declared.

The furor over these remarks are best understood in the context of a political environment that treats criticism of cops by public officials as taboo. The Republican war on public-sector unions ends at the precinct doors. When it doesn’t, the public sides with the police—as in Ohio, where a 2011 bill to rein in collective-bargaining rights was overturned in a voter referendum in large part because it lumped in cops and firefighters with teachers. Prominent Republican politicians blasted de Blasio in the wake of this weekend’s killing, the first of a New York City officer in the line of duty since 2011.

Police are accustomed to unconditional support for performing a difficult and dangerous job, which may be the best explanation for the union spokesmen who reacted with indignation whenever a public figure expressed sympathy for what has come to be known as the Black Lives Matter movement. A St. Louis police-union spokesperson demanded an apology from the NFL when the Rams’ wide receiving corps took the field in late November with their hands raised aloft in a gesture of solidarity. A Cleveland police-union president called Browns’ wide receiver Andrew Hawkins “pathetic” for wearing a warm-up shirt that called for justice for Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old gunned down in that city mere seconds after a cop encountered him holding a toy gun.

READ MORE North Korea’s Internet Comes Back on After About 9 Hours

None of that matched the invective that New York police officials heaped on de Blasio after protests cascaded across the city earlier this month. Within a week of the Garner decision, the New York City Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association was circulating a petition that asked de Blasio and New York city council speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito to stay away away from their funerals if they were killed in the line of duty. It is a short trip from this morbid request to scapegoating the mayor in a tragedy for which no one is responsible but the criminal who pulled the trigger.

TIME White House

Obama Looks to the ‘4th Quarter’ of His Presidency

“Interesting things happen in the fourth quarter,” Obama said

At the end of a grim year that saw his approval ratings sink, his party pummeled in elections and his legislative agenda stymied by opponents, President Barack Obama made an impassioned argument Friday that the nation has emerged stronger than ever from economic upheaval and an unending sequence of foreign crises.

It was a rare glimpse of vintage Obama, the upbeat change-agent from his campaign days, who has all but vanished after six tough years of turmoil. In his ceremonial year-end news conference, Obama was buoyant, bantering with the press corps, mocking North Korean leader Kim Jong Un for the rogue nation’s response to a Seth Rogen movie, and rattling off statistics about the positive steps his administration has taken. And he served notice that as he approaches the final lap of his presidency, he isn’t finished putting his stamp on the nation.

“Interesting things happen in the fourth quarter,” the sports-loving president said with a grin.

Read more: Obama says Sony ‘made a mistake’ in pulling The Interview

Obama’s remarks came after a six-week stretch in which he sidestepped Congress to issue a series of major executive actions and foreign policy pronouncements, including a unilateral overhaul of U.S. immigration law in November and this week’s announcement that the U.S. will begin to normalize relations with Cuba after a half-century of conflict.

“This is still a repressive regime,” Obama said of the Cuban leaders, “but I know deep in my bones that if you’ve done the same thing for 50 years and nothing has changed, you should try something different.” Recounting his historic phone conversation this week with Cuban President Raul Castro, Obama joked that he apologized to Castro for his windy preamble, only to have his Cuban counterpart go on for twice as long.

Obama acknowledged that dismantling the Cuba trade embargo would require the cooperation of Congress, both chambers of which will be controlled by Republicans come January. “I think there are real opportunities to get things done in Congress,” he said. “The question is going to be are we able to separate out those areas where we disagree and those areas where we agree.”

One key area of disagreement is the Keystone XL pipeline, which Republicans are set to move forward with early next year. Asked Friday whether he would approve the project, which has been touted by Republicans as a job-creator and strongly opposed by environmental groups, Obama sounded less inclined than ever. “It’s not even going to be a nominal benefit to U.S. consumers,” the President said.

But Obama made a case that in a year dotted with setbacks and marked by ongoing Congressional dysfunction, the U.S. government had largely succeeded in rising to the challenge. Ebola has been wiped from U.S. shores and is receding in much of West Africa. The tide of unaccompanied minors arriving on the southern border has swept back out. The U.S. campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) saw the first signs of success. The economy is steadily improving, even if many have yet to feel the benefits of a brightening job market.

“I guess that’s my general theme for the end of the year. We’ve gone through difficult times,” Obama said. “But through persistent effort and faith in the American people, things get better.”

“Part of what I hope, as we reflect on the new year, this should generate is some confidence,” Obama said. “America knows how to solve problems. And when we work together, we can’t be stopped.

“And now I’m going to go on vacation,” the President added, eyeing an exit for his annual trip to Hawaii. “Mele Kalikimaka, everybody. Mahalo.”

TIME intelligence

FBI Accuses North Korea in Sony Hack

North Korean leader Kim inspects the Artillery Company under the KPA Unit 963, in this undated photo released by North Korea's KCNA in Pyongyang
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspects the Artillery Company under the Korean People's Army Unit 963 in Pyongyang on Dec. 2, 2014 KCNA/Reuters

Fallout led Sony to pull The Interview

The FBI on Friday accused the North Korean government of being behind the devastating hack on Sony Pictures Entertainment that eventually prompted it to cancel the release of The Interview, the first formal statement that the U.S. government has concluded the isolated nation is responsible for the cyberattack.

“The FBI now has enough information to conclude that the North Korean government is responsible,” the bureau said in a statement. “Though the FBI has seen a wide variety and increasing number of cyber intrusions, the destructive nature of this attack, coupled with its coercive nature, sets it apart.”

President Barack Obama, asked Friday about Sony’s decision to pull The Interview, said: “Yes, I think they made a mistake”

The FBI said it determined North Korea was responsible based on an analysis of the malware involved and its similarities to previous attacks the U.S. government has attribute to North Korean-allied hackers, including an assault on South Korean banks and media outlets in 2013. These include “similarities in specific lines of code, encryption algorithms, data deletion methods, and compromised networks,” the FBI said in its statement. According to the FBI, the malware used in the attack communicated with known North Korean computers. The FBI didn’t furnish evidence to back its assertion that North Korea was involved. North Korea has denied being behind the hack.

Read more: The 7 most outrageous things we learned from the Sony hack

Bureau investigators have been working for weeks with Sony executives and private security experts to investigate the scale and origins of the attack. For Sony, the hack has been devastating: It crippled the studio’s infrastructure, leaked sensitive documents about tens of thousands of employees and contractors, embarrassed executives and resulted in the studio’s decision to pull, The Interview, a movie whose plot centers around the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The film incensed the North Korean government.

Read more: 4 things every single person can learn from the Sony hack

The FBI did not say whether the attack was coordinated from within North Korea or through allies outside the hermit kingdom. The FBI said it could only provide limited information to the public to protect its sources and methods.

President Barack Obama is expected to address the incident on Friday afternoon in a White House news conference. On Thursday, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the administration was treating the incident as a “serious national security matter.”

White House officials have convened daily meetings to discuss the attack and to devise options for a “proportional response,” Earnest said, not ruling out an American counter-attack on North Korean systems.

“The FBI’s announcement that North Korea is responsible for the attack on Sony Pictures is confirmation of what we suspected to be the case: that cyber terrorists, bent on wreaking havoc, have violated a major company to steal personal information, company secrets and threaten the American public,” Chris Dodd, who heads the trade group Motion Picture Association of America, said in a statement. “It is a despicable, criminal act.”

See the full FBI statement:

Today, the FBI would like to provide an update on the status of our investigation into the cyber attack targeting Sony Pictures Entertainment (SPE). In late November, SPE confirmed that it was the victim of a cyber attack that destroyed systems and stole large quantities of personal and commercial data. A group calling itself the “Guardians of Peace” claimed responsibility for the attack and subsequently issued threats against SPE, its employees, and theaters that distribute its movies.

The FBI has determined that the intrusion into SPE’s network consisted of the deployment of destructive malware and the theft of proprietary information as well as employees’ personally identifiable information and confidential communications. The attacks also rendered thousands of SPE’s computers inoperable, forced SPE to take its entire computer network offline, and significantly disrupted the company’s business operations.

After discovering the intrusion into its network, SPE requested the FBI’s assistance. Since then, the FBI has been working closely with the company throughout the investigation. Sony has been a great partner in the investigation, and continues to work closely with the FBI. Sony reported this incident within hours, which is what the FBI hopes all companies will do when facing a cyber attack. Sony’s quick reporting facilitated the investigators’ ability to do their jobs, and ultimately to identify the source of these attacks.

As a result of our investigation, and in close collaboration with other U.S. Government departments and agencies, the FBI now has enough information to conclude that the North Korean government is responsible for these actions. While the need to protect sensitive sources and methods precludes us from sharing all of this information, our conclusion is based, in part, on the following:

· Technical analysis of the data deletion malware used in this attack revealed links to other malware that the FBI knows North Korean actors previously developed. For example, there were similarities in specific lines of code, encryption algorithms, data deletion methods, and compromised networks.

· The FBI also observed significant overlap between the infrastructure used in this attack and other malicious cyber activity the U.S. Government has previously linked directly to North Korea. For example, the FBI discovered that several Internet protocol (IP) addresses associated with known North Korean infrastructure communicated with IP addresses that were hardcoded into the data deletion malware used in this attack.

· Separately, the tools used in the SPE attack have similarities to a cyber attack in March of last year against South Korean banks and media outlets, which was carried out by North Korea.

We are deeply concerned about the destructive nature of this attack on a private sector entity and the ordinary citizens who worked there. Further, North Korea’s attack on SPE reaffirms that cyber threats pose one of the gravest national security dangers to the United States. Though the FBI has seen a wide variety and increasing number of cyber intrusions, the destructive nature of this attack, coupled with its coercive nature, sets it apart. 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. Such acts of intimidation fall outside the bounds of acceptable state behavior. The FBI takes seriously any attempt – whether through cyber-enabled means, threats of violence, or otherwise – to undermine the economic and social prosperity of our citizens.

The FBI stands ready to assist any U.S. company that is the victim of a destructive cyber attack or breach of confidential business information. Further, the FBI will continue to work closely with multiple departments and agencies as well as with domestic, foreign, and private sector partners who have played a critical role in our ability to trace this and other cyber threats to their source. Working together, 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.

TIME Security

Everything We Know About Sony, The Interview and North Korea

What we know, what we don't know, and how a movie got pulled

Sony Pictures Entertainment said late Wednesday that it’s pulling The Interview, a comedy about two journalists tasked with killing North Korean ruler Kim Jong Un. Sony’s move came a day after a cryptic message appeared online threatening attacks against theaters that played the film, and several weeks after hackers first breached Sony’s system and posted troves of private emails and other data online.

Shortly after Sony decided to scrub The Interview, a U.S. official confirmed to TIME that American intelligence officials have determined North Korea was behind the Sony hack, though no evidence has been disclosed.

Here’s everything we know for sure about the Sony hack, up until now.

What happened?

On Nov. 24, Sony employees came to work in Culver City, Calif., to find images of grinning red skulls on computer screens. The hackers identified themselves as #GOP, or the Guardians of Peace. They made off with a vast amount of data (reports suggest up to 100 terabytes), wiped company hard drives and began dumping sensitive documents on the Internet.

Among the sensitive information the hackers divulged: salary and personnel records for tens of thousands of employees as well as Hollywood stars; embarrassing email traffic between executives and movie moguls; and several of the studio’s unreleased feature films. More is likely to come, as Sony Pictures Co-Chair Amy Pascal said the hackers got away with every employees’ emails “from the last 10 years.”

MORE: The 7 most outrageous things we learned from the Sony hack

And the attack has already affected other companies: Secret acquisitions by photo-sharing app Snapchat, for instance, have been made public thanks to leaked emails from Sony Pictures CEO Michael Lynton, who sits on Snapchat’s board.

Who did it?

That’s the million-dollar question. For a few reasons, suspicion has zeroed in on the North Korean government or a band of allied hacktivists. The hermit kingdom is apoplectic over The Interview, in which Seth Rogen and James Franco play journalists who land a face-to-face with Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un, only to be asked by the CIA to assassinate the reclusive leader. The comedy features graphic footage of the dictator’s death, which didn’t go over well in a country built on a hereditary personality cult.

From a forensic perspective, the hack had hallmarks of North Korean influence. The attackers breached Sony’s network with malware that had been compiled on a Korean-language computer. And the effort bore similarities to attacks by a hacking group with suspected ties to North Korea that has carried out attacks on South Korean targets, including a breach of South Korean banks in 2013. That group, which is alternately known in the cybersecurity community as DarkSeoul (after its frequent target) or Silent Chollima (after a mythical winged horse), often uses spear-phishing—a cyber-attack that targets a specific vulnerable user or department on a larger network.

MORE: U.S. sees North Korea as culprit in Sony attack

That does not necessarily mean the North Korean government, or even the same hacker collective, is responsible. In the world of cyberwarfare, hackers will often dissect and imitate successful techniques.

Even the clues that point toward Pyongyang could be diversions to deflect investigators. For example, the perpetrators could’ve manipulated the code or set the computer language to throw suspicion on a convenient culprit. Pyongyang has denied involvement.

Why did Sony scrub The Interview?

People who may or may not have been tied to the hackers posted a vague message Tuesday threatening 9/11-style attacks against theaters that chose to play the film. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security said there wasn’t any evidence of a credible threat against American movie theaters, but several major chains, including AMC and Regal, decided to play it safe—all told, chains that control about half of the country’s movie screens decided against playing The Interview. Sony then followed suit, pulling the movie entirely.

Were theaters really in danger?

It’s tough to say for sure. North Korea has made lots of bloviating threats toward the U.S. before, so anything that comes out of Pyongyang should be taken with a grain of salt. But again, no concrete proof has been made public yet that these attacks or the threat came from North Korea—or even that they came from the same person or group.

Will we ever get to see The Interview?

Probably. The movie cost about $44 million to make, according to documents leaked by the hackers. The ad campaign so far has cost tens of millions on top of that, although Sony has pulled the plug on further TV spots. A total loss on that investment would be a tough pill for Sony to swallow.

MORE: You can’t see The Interview, but TIME’s movie critic did

What will most likely happen is some limited release in the future when everything calms down, perhaps bypassing theaters and going right to Blu-Ray/DVD and on-demand services. There’s also a chance Sony could release the film online. That would eliminate pretty much any safety risk to viewers, but could further enrage whoever hacked Sony—assuming they actually care about The Interview and it’s not just a red herring. It would also let Sony capitalize on all the sudden interest in the film generated by the hack and threats. Don’t expect to see it soon: Sony said late Wednesday it’s not planning any kind of release. But it could, of course, be leaked online.

In an interview with ABC News on Wednesday, President Barack Obama called the hack against Sony “very serious,” but suggested authorities have yet to find any credibility in the threat of attacks against theaters.

“For now, my recommendation would be that people go to the movies,” Obama said.

How did the hackers do it?

We don’t know exactly. Cyber-security experts say the initial breach could have occurred through a simple phishing or spearfishing attempt, in which the hackers find a soft spot in the company’s network defenses. That can be a coding error or an employee who clicks on an infected link. These breaches occur all the time. FireEye, the parent company of the cybersecurity firm Sony hired to probe the hack, studied the network security of more than 1,200 banks, government agencies and manufacturers over a six-month period ending in 2014, and found that 97% had their last line of defense breached at some point by hackers.

“Breaches are inevitable,” says Dmitri Alperovitch, co-founder of the cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike. “But that just means they’ve gotten in the door. It doesn’t mean they’ll be able to walk out with the crown jewels or set fire to the building.”

Once inside, hackers will try to gain elevated security privileges to spread across the network. What made the Sony hack different was the fact that it wasn’t detected until large quantities of data had been swiped. And what stood out, several analysts say, was not the sophistication of the breach but the havoc the culprits sought to wreak. “The attack was very targeted, very well thought out,” says Mike Fey of the network-security firm Blue Coat Systems, who believes the hackers “planned and orchestrated” the attack for months.

What are investigators doing to find out who’s responsible?

Sony has brought in experts at Mandiant, a top security firm, to lead the probe of the hack. Their investigation, outside security experts say, will be similar in some ways to the forensic analysis that follow a murder: studying data logs, reviewing network communications, poring over code, matching clues to potential motives. It may involve probing bulletin boards on the Dark Web, where hackers sometimes go to seek advice on technical troubles.

“There’s a lot of detective work you can do,” says former Department of Justice cybercrime prosecutor Mark Rasch. “Are they native English speakers? What programming language do they use? The code will have styles, signatures and tells.”

And investigators are tracking the IP addresses from which the attack was launched, which in the case of the Sony hack included infected computers in locations ranging from Thailand to Italy.

What happens if it was North Korea?

It’s tough to say. It’s unprecedented for a state actor to conduct a cyberattack of this scale against a U.S. corporation. If that turns out to be the case, however the U.S. decides to respond will set the tone for a whole new kind of cyberwar.

Could the Sony hack happen to other companies?

It’s increasingly likely. Sony is unusual in large part because the attackers appear to have been driven by a desire to cause destruction, rather than financial motives. And the strange geopolitical overtones of the hack add a dollop of intrigue. “It’s a milestone because it’s such a large-scale destructive attack that is rooted in this bizarre political messaging,” says security researcher Kurt Baumgartner of Kaspersky Lab.

But cyber-warfare is a growing threat for which most companies are ill-prepared. Joseph Demarest, assistant director in the FBI’s cyber division, testified to a Senate panel earlier this month that the malware used in the Sony hack “probably [would have] gotten past 90% of the net defenses that are out there today in private industry.” Banks and government agencies tend to have better security, but in recent months major retailers like Target and Home Depot have been hit. When targeted by competent and persistent hackers, corporate defenses will often be outmatched. “This is a great wakeup call,” says Kevin Haley, a director at Symantec Security Response. “We need to get better at securing our organizations.”

-Additional reporting by Sam Frizell

Read next: You Can’t See ‘The Interview,’ but I Did

TIME Crime

Ferguson Protesters Try to Block Use of Tear Gas

Police Shooting Missouri
An explosive device deployed by police flies in the air as police and protesters clash after tear gas was thrown on Aug. 13, 2014, in Ferguson, Mo. Jeff Roberson—AP

A federal judge told cops not to use of gas to disperse crowds without proper warning

A federal judge in St. Louis ordered local police to limit their use of tear gas after Ferguson protesters filed a complaint alleging their right to peaceful assembly had been violated.

Carol Jackson, a judge in the U.S. District Court of Eastern Missouri, issued a temporary restraining order Thursday after a hearing in which protesters argued they had been gassed without warning amid peaceful protests that erupted anew last month when a grand jury declined to indict officer Darren Wilson in the death of Michael Brown.

The ruling requires police to respect demonstrators’ rights to lawfully assemble and provide clear warning before resorting to the use of chemical agents. It represents a modest victory for the protest movement, which previously won a courtroom victory when a different judge ruled that a policy that required protesters to walk continuously was unconstitutional.

At the same time, the impact of the temporary order is limited. It applies only to Missouri, and leaves the definition of fair warning at the discretion of police. Another hearing was scheduled for next month, according to reports.

The suit argued that local law-enforcement leaders violated the constitutional rights of demonstrators who had peacefully gathered to protest the grand jury’s decision. It focused on an incident that occurred late on the night of Nov. 24, as the region erupted in the aftermath of the announcement.

According to court documents, protesters had gathered outside a St. Louis coffeehouse when officers ordered the crowd to vacate the street. “Without notice or warning,” the complaint alleges, police then began firing tear gas canisters at the crowd, some of whom ran into the coffee shop, which filled with gas. Several protesters were sickened by the fumes.

The suit was filed by six plaintiffs: four protesters, the store owner and a legal observer who witnessed the episode. Chemical agents like tear gas and smoke have been used frequently to disperse crowds during the demonstrations that have rocked the region since Brown’s death in August.

Police defended the practice and said there was no attempt to injure protesters.”We don’t go to tear gas right away. We said over a loudspeaker, ‘This is an unlawful assembly, please leave the area,'” Sam Dotson, the St. Louis police chief who was named as a defendant in the suit, told the Riverfront Times. “This is where people lose focus a little bit. When the order to disperse is given, it applies to everyone. People always say, ‘It’s not me, so I don’t have to leave.’ The challenge for law enforcement is that we don’t know who the good guys are or who the bad guys are, because the bad guys intermingle with the good guys.”

TIME Congress

Congress Narrowly Avoids Government Shutdown

Congress averted a short-term shutdown by passing a spending bill before midnight

The House squeaked through a $1.1 trillion bill Thursday night with only hours to spare before a midnight deadline that would have shut down the government.

On the House floor, the vote tally—219 to 206—was watched as closely as the scoreboard in the final minutes of a hard-fought game after the initial scheduled vote was postponed for seven hours of arm-twisting, including a plea from White House chief of staff Denis McDonough to House Democrats. Congressmen ordered Armand’s and Papa John’s pizza when it became clear they would have to stay for dinner.

“Merry Christmas,” said Ohio Republican Rep. Pat Tiberi with more than a trace of faux enthusiasm after Washington’s worst holiday tradition was over.

There was a significant chance that the bill wouldn’t have passed, forcing a short-term, months-long patch. As it became clear that the Republican-controlled House was short of the votes, Obama and Vice President Joe Biden began calling wavering House Democrats. At the same time, House GOP leaders whipped the rank-and-file members they needed.

If the two sides couldn’t cobble together a majority by midnight, the government would have temporarily run out of funding. “I don’t think there’s going to be a government shutdown,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told MSNBC as the sun set on the Capitol with no agreement in sight.

The last-minute scramble to pass a spending measure called up unpleasant memories of the past several years, when Congress has repeatedly edged right up to deadlines to pass stopgap legislation. In each case, the legislative branch managed to skirt disaster—until last fall, when the Republican Tea Party faction forced a shutdown in an effort to gut the Affordable Care Act. That 16-day shutdown damaged the GOP brand badly, and its leaders promised to sidestep a sequel.

But members of both parties found things in the omnibus bill to hate. Liberal Democrats, like House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, oppose provisions that would raise the maximum donation that wealthy individuals can give to political parties, as well as another that would provide government backing to some derivative trading measures like credit-default swaps. On the right, some conservative Republicans oppose the bill because it doesn’t defund Obama’s executive actions on immigration.

As a result, Thursday’s logjam caught many in the capital by surprise. Should a shutdown occur, it would have almost surely been short-lived. But the lack of support forced Republicans leaders to delay a planned vote.

“I’m not sure we have the votes,” said Rep. Robert Pittenger, a North Carolina Republican mere hours before the vote. “I do wish that President Obama and Nancy Pelosi would read off the same page.”

The White House urged Democrats to back the bill. “Democrats should be on board,” Earnest said, arguing a short-term spending resolution would leave the party with “even less leverage.” That message was reiterated in the McDonough meeting, which took place for over an hour in the basement of a Capitol annex.

Rep. Eliot Engel of New York said Thursday afternoon that he had been urged by the White House to support the measure. “Do you throw the baby out with the bath water or don’t you?” he said. “I think that’s what we’re all grappling with.”

The Office of Management and Budget held a call with executive agencies Thursday to discuss preparations for a possible shutdown, which officials believed was unlikely. But Congress still had to pass a short-term bill to push back the government shutdown deadline two days so the Senate would have enough time to pass the bill, as expected.

 

TIME intelligence

CIA Director Defends Agency Over Senate Report

"Our nation, and particularly this agency, did a lot of things right during this difficult time," John Brennan said

CIA Director John Brennan defended his agency from a sharply critical Senate report into its post-9/11 detention and interrogations in a rare press conference Thursday.

Speaking from the agency’s headquarters in Langley, Va., Brennan called the report “flawed,” chafed at its level of disclosure, and disagreed with the report’s conclusions that the so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” were ineffective. Brennan called the efficacy of those tactics, which included waterboarding and sleep-deprivation, “unknowable.”

Brennan opened his public statement with a drawn-out reminiscence of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, calling it the “backdrop” for the use of those tactics. “Whatever your views are on EITs, our nation, and particularly this agency, did a lot of things right during this difficult time,” he said.

Casting the efforts of the agency as a scramble to protect the nation after the deaths of nearly 3,000 fellow citizens, Brennan acknowledged that the CIA was in “uncharted territory” with the interrogation and detention programs, and had made mistakes.

“I look back at the record and I see this was a workforce that was trying to do the right thing,” Brennan said. “I cannot say with certainty that individuals acted with complete honesty.”

The CIA director questioned the Senate panel’s decision not to interview the officers involved in carrying out or overseeing the program to understand their perspective. “I think it’s lamentable that the committee did not avail itself of the opportunity to interact with CIA personnel,” he said.

Under questions from reporters, Brennan openly complained about the contents of the Senate report. “I think there’s been more than enough transparency that has happened over the last couple of days,” Brennan said. “I think it’s over the top.”

Brennan refused to characterize some of the CIA’s activities as “torture,” despite President Obama’s declaration in August that “we tortured some folks.” He would only concede that some officers “exceeded the policy guidance that was given,” adding that they were “abhorrent, and rightly should be repudiated by all.”

Brennan would only concede that the use of coercive techniques had a high likelihood of producing false information.

“We fell short when it came to holding some officers accountable for their mistakes,” Brennan added. The Department of Justice ended criminal probes of the practices in 2012 without charging any of the officers involved.

Weighing into one of the most contentious debates about the utility of program, Brennan said it was a fact that detainees subjected to brutal interrogation techniques provided information that led to the killing of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

“I am not going to attribute that to the use of the EITs,” Brennan said. “I am just going to state as a matter of fact the information they provided was used.”

Saying the detention and interrogation program ended seven years ago, “my fervent hope is that we can put aside this debate and move forward.”

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