North Korea suspected in vicious cyber attacks
Let the hacking commence.
Last month’s crippling cyber-attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment revealed confidential information of business practices, employee pay disparities and personal data, unpublished scripts, sensitive contracts, and ugly personal feuds between actors and executives. Experts say these secrets could damage the Hollywood studio for years to come.
Although an unknown hacking group calling themselves the “Guardians of Peace” has taken partial credit for the major cyber-leak, the FBI is yet to determine the culprit,
Rather than focusing on traditional targets of cyber-intrusions, such as credit cards, those behind the attack chose to use sensitive information as a weapon of vengeance for Sony’s supposed misdeeds.
The consequences for Sony have been swift and devastating since the public attack, exposing the media company to potential lawsuits and Hollywood backlash.
Perhaps the most damaging will harm Sony’s reputation, and the harsh reality that even the biggest corporate lines and computer systems are vulnerable to attack.
“There is a ring of fire around the trade secrets of Hollywood, and the value of executives is in their ability to keep confidences and secrets and to maintain a level of distance,” said Jeremy Goldman, an entertainment and intellectual property attorney for Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz.
A humiliating email chain between Sony co-chairwoman Amy Pascal and producer Scott Rudin was among those leaked, with Mr. Rudin fighting over copyright issues for the forthcoming Steve Jobs biopic, “Jobs” (which was eventually lost to Universal), and pressuring Ms. Pascal to shelve the Sony remake of “Cleopatra” starring Angelina Jolie. Rudin called Jolie, who requested director David Fincher to direct the “Cleopatra” remake, a “minimally talented spoiled brat” while Pascal unsuccessfully tried to calm him down.
Even more incriminating leaks include an exchange of emails between Sony executives which criticize President Barack Obama, insinuating racist comments as Rudin and Pascal start guessing what movies and actors the President might like, each tied to African Americans.
“Should I ask him if he liked DJANGO [Unchained]?” Pascal asks in an email reported from BuzzFeed, to which Rudin responds, “12 YEARS [A SLAVE].”
More emails were released which reveal unflattering comments about big names in Hollywood such as Tom Cruise, David Fincher, Aaron Sorkin, Kevin Hart, and Adam Sandler.
Pascal’s harsh words in the emails reveals a dark side of one of corporate America’s most powerful leading female executives, who became co-chair of Sony Pictures in 2003 and helped develop box-office hits like “The Amazing Spider-Ma”n and several “James Bond” films.
Rudin issued a statement to Deadline apologizing for the emails, which he said were written in haste.
“I made a series of remarks that were meant only to be funny, but in the cold light of day, they are in fact thoughtless and insensitive, and not funny at all,” he said. “To anybody I’ve offended, I’m profoundly and deeply sorry, and I regret and apologize for any injury they might have caused.”
Because of the leaks, Sony executives are no longer corresponding via email but through text messages in a temporary effort to avoid further information exposure. Experts suggest that the studio may now have to pay its top-tier talent, particularly A-list celebrities like Jolie, three times as much as part of the damage control.
Possible link to North Korea?
FBI officials and investigators are also determining whether the cyber-attack is linked to North Korea, a reclusive nation with an increasingly potent hacking capability. Sources say the hack may have occurred in retaliation for Sony’s upcoming Christmas release, The Interview, a comedy built around a fictional CIA plot to kill North Korea’s supreme leader, Kim Jong Un, who is revered in the nation. North Koreans have repeatedly denounced the film, warning of “stern” and “merciless” retaliation, but the government has declined to comment.
The hacking into one of Hollywood’s biggest studios has alarmed US officials and cyber security experts, who say this is the first major attack on a US company to use malicious software designed to “incapacitate” computer networks.
“This is a step beyond what they’ve done in the past, but it’s a logical trajectory for them,” said James Lewis, a cyber expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
A State Department official declined to comment on the allegations, but said, “We are aware of reports about North Korean concerns about this movie. While it may be difficult for them to understand the concept, in the United States entertainers are free to make movies of their choosing.”
“There is no attribution to North Korea at this point,” said Joe Demarest, assistant director with the FBI’s cyber division.
Sony has also declined to comment on the growing suspicions or internal damage to the company.
Though there is no definite knowledge that North Korea is responsible for the hack, the country is remembered for its previous retaliation cyber-attacks against South Korean companies.
The FBI plans to meet with Sony executives to better train them in cyber security awareness, and is continuing its investigation of the alleged attackers.
(With reports from Reuters, Washington Post, FOX News, CNBC, and The Hollywood Reporter)
(LA Weekend December 13-16, 2014 Sec. D pg.1)