North Korea called a wide-ranging cyberattack against Sony Pictures a "righteous deed" in a statement released Sunday, but stopped short of taking full responsibility for last week's disruption.
An unidentified spokesman for the North's powerful National Defense Commission said that the hack that it "might be a righteous deed of the supporters and sympathizers" of the North's call for the world to turn out in a "just struggle" against U.S. imperialism.
The destructive Nov. 24 attack was carried out by a group calling itself the "Guardians of Peace". It targeted Sony's corporate network and vowed to release sensitive corporate data if certain demands were not met. Reuters reported Saturday that forensic investigators called in by Sony to investigate the hack described it as "an unparalleled and well planned crime, carried out by an organized group, for which neither [Sony Pictures] nor other companies could have been fully prepared."
Variety reports that screener copies of at least five Sony movies were downloaded freely online following the hack. A spreadsheet also appeared on a text sharing site Monday purportedly showing the salaries of top Sony Pictures executives.
The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that hackers have nabbed more than 47,000 Social Security Numbers from current and former employees, as well as celebrities such as Sylvester Stallone and director Judd Apatow. Late Friday, the FBI told FoxNews.com that it was investigating threatening emails received by some Sony Pictures employees.
"We do not know where in America the Sony Pictures is situated and for what wrongdoings it became the target of the attack, nor (do) we feel the need to know about it," the statement carried in state media said. "But what we clearly know is that the Sony Pictures is the very one which was going to produce a film abetting a terrorist act while hurting the dignity of the supreme leadership of" North Korea.
The movie in question, "The Interview," features comic actors Seth Rogen and James Franco as television journalists who are recruited by the CIA to assassinate Kim Jong-un using an interview as their cover.
Pyongyang has repeatedly complained about "The Interview," at one point writing a letter of complaint to President Barack Obama about the film. North Korea has built a cult of personality around the Kim family, which has ruled for three generations, and sees any outside criticism or mockery of its leader as an attack on its sovereignty. It recently opened fire on anti-Pyongyang propaganda balloons that North Korean defectors in the South were floating across the border into the North.
The statement said the North's enemies, the United States and South Korea, had "groundlessly linked the hacking attack with" Pyongyang, but the denial also included a threat.
The United States should know that "there are a great number of supporters and sympathizers with (North Korea) all over the world as well as the 'champions of peace' who attacked the Sony Pictures," the statement said. "The righteous reaction will get stronger to smash the evil doings."
Some cybersecurity experts say they've found striking similarities between the code used in the hack of Sony Pictures Entertainment and attacks blamed on North Korea that targeted South Korean companies and government agencies last year.
Experts are divided, however, over the likelihood that North Korea or independent hackers were involved.
Fox News.com's James Rogers and the Associated Press contributed to this report.