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SEOUL/BOSTON (Reuters) - The Pyongyang government's state-run media said the cyber attack on Sony's Hollywood studio may have been the work of pro-North Korean supporters in a report on Sunday that dismissed charges that the country itself was to blame as "wild rumor."
"The hacking into Sony Pictures Entertainment might be a righteous deed of the supporters and sympathizers with the DPRK in response to its appeal," the article by the KCNA news agency said, using the official DPRK acronym for North Korea.
The article, which represents the nation's most detailed response about the attack to date, denounced South Korea, accusing Seoul of "floating the false rumor that the North was involved in the hacking."
It also warned the United States that "there are a great number of supporters and sympathizers with the DPRK all over the world."
It said 'Guardians of Peace,' the hacking gang that has taken responsibility for the attack at the Sony Corp unit, was one such group. A North Korean diplomat has denied Pyongyang was behind the attack that was launched last month, though a U.S. national security source said it was a suspect.
Joseph DeTrani, a former senior U.S. intelligence official who has served as a special envoy in negotiations with Pyongyang, said that North Korea has historically been truthful when making statements about its involvement in attacks.
However, current leader Kim Jong Un has only been in power for about three years, which raises the possibility that the nation could have swayed from that policy, DeTrani said.
DeTrani said that he did not know if Pyongyang was responsible, but that it did have the ability to launch such an attack.
To date, cybersecurity experts say most of its cyber capabilities have been targeted at South Korea, which is technically still in a state of war with the North.
The attack shut down most of the studio's network for more than a week and hackers have released sensitive data over the Internet, including employee salaries and Social Security numbers along with high-quality digital versions of several unreleased films.
Forensics experts hired by Sony said the breach was unprecedented, well-planned and carried out by an "organized group," according to an email obtained by Reuters on Saturday.
That document did not identify suspects, but people close to the investigation have told Reuters that North Korea is a principal suspect based on technical evidence and Pyongyang's strong opposition to Sony Pictures comedy, 'The Interview,' which features a plot to assassinate the North Korean leader and is due to open Dec. 25 in the United States.
North Korea has described the film as an "act of war," though a North Korean diplomat last week denied that his nation was involved in the cyber attack.
Sony appears to be going ahead with its Christmas release. Actors James Franco and Seth Rogen appeared on the U.S. television program "Saturday Night Live" to promote "The Interview," in which they co-star.
"Something pretty crazy happened this week," Franco joked as he began a monologue about the unprecedented attack on U.S. soil, which included the theft of sensitive data of actors who had worked on Sony films.
"Soon you'll know that my email is email@example.com. My password is Littlejamesycutiepie," he said. "This is all just a real violation of my personal life."
The monologue was followed by an ad for the film that said it will be in theaters on Christmas Day, indicating that the hack has not caused Sony to delay its debut.
Additional reporting by Chris Michaud in New York; Editing by James Pearson, Kim Coghill and Eric Walsh