And yet, the Obama administration has options to stifle the shakedown, if it chooses to exercise them.
After hacking Sony's (SNE) computer network and subjecting its employees to identity theft and public embarrassment, North Korean hackers threatened theater chains with a Sept. 11, 2001-like attack if they showed "The Interview," a satirical comedy about a plot to assassinate Kim Jong Un.
Sony, unable to find theaters, pay television or digital platforms to show the movie, was forced to cancel its Dec. 25 release. And Hollywood studios have now shelved at least one other project that might offend North Korea.
For months, the Obama administration has been aware of the movie and warned Sony that North Korea might attempt to shake down U.S. targets, but it did little to protect the studio or theater chains.
U.S. policy on cyberattacks is to protect private-sector assets vital to U.S. infrastructure -- for example, banking, the Internet and the power grid -- but the administration has repeatedly failed to act effectively when other private businesses and citizens are threatened.
For example, the Chinese government and army have hacked U.S. firms, seeking to steal vital corporate secrets, but the best that the Obama administration has come up with is protests and criminal indictments of Chinese military officials, which are meaningless if they don't travel to the United States.
Washington could mount counterattacks. However, the Obama administration's response, whether regarding China's bullying of U.S. allies in the China Sea or its harboring North Korean hackers operating within its borders, has been to plead for relief and to seek new areas of cooperation with China in the spheres of economics and defense that could one day reduce America to Beijing's client state.
Now, no one should be surprised that North Korea has concluded that it can destroy Sony's internal communication system, subject its employees to peril and bully all of Hollywood at whim.
And U.S. businesses must now reckon with the fact that rogue foreign governments will steal and exploit their intellectual property, unless they pay tribute.