Friday, December 19, 2014

(Movies) Sony Hacks: The Story That Keeps On Giving

For a corporation involved in art of visual storytelling, I’m pretty sure nobody in at Sony Pictures entertainment would have dreamed up the nightmare last couple weeks the company has been having that somehow continues to get worse with every leak.  Sony isn’t the only company that’s been hacked like this but there hasn’t been so many revelations to the point that it says something not only about the company and the individuals involved but an whole industry.

The nightmare began on the 24th of November after the company’s computer networks was hacked by a group that call itself “Guardians of Peace” that subsequently threatened to expose the company with the data they took claiming “We have obtained all your internal data including secrets and top secrets"[1].

And since then the company has been reeling from one embarrassing email leak to another as Sony Pictures executives got caught talking smack about movie stars and making racially loaded jokes about the president’s taste in films. The person at the center of the leaks was Sony Pictures co-chair Amy Pascal whose communications with stars and conversations with fellow movie executives have generated headlines since the hack last month.

The hacked emails have given us an unwarranted insight on the industry and some extent how it works but they also have given us and insight into some A-listers and how they much they differ to their public persona. On the 14th, the Independent reported that the hacked email revealed that George Clooney, a man who is the picture of male self-assurance, lost sleep over less than complimentary reviews “Monuments Men”[2]. Clooney, in an private email back in January under Sony Pictures co-chair Amy Pascal, revealed his need for “protection from all reviews”[3]

Some of the leaks have been relatively benign as some have revealed the studios’ movie making plans such as its intention to resurrect the successful Ghostbusters franchise with actor Channing Tatum and Chris Pratt. The emails revealed Tatum’s keenness for the project as he saw that the once successful franchise could be as big as the Christopher Nolan directed “Dark Knight Trilogy” was for Batman[4].

However, while the hacks have been an embarrassing episode for the company as a whole, it seems the crisis is only getting worse as Sony made the decision to cancel the release of “The Interview” starring Seth Rogen and James Franco which includes a plot to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong un after a threat was issued against the release of the film by the hackers. Their decision to cancel the films’ Christmas release was met with widespread disproval among the public, media and Hollywood to the point that even the president stepped into the debate to register his disagreement with their decision.

Almost everybody saw their decision as a cowardly move in lieu of a threat many think can’t or won’t be carried out even if they did release the film due to the suspicion that the hacks were carried out by North Korea. Many stars, George Clooney, Judd Apatow, Rob Lowe and Mia Farrow among them, publicly registered their distaste for Sony’s position. Sony Pictures was clearly trying to avoid the situation worse but with the embarrassing emails and the widespread vocal disagreement with their decision, It’s hard to see how they going to get any business done anytime soon as both controversies have alienated a number of Hollywood stars they work with.  

However, what’s galling about the whole debacle is not what it revealed about Hollywood or even the company’s strategy or dealings, which is bad enough, but that the hack and the subsequent leaks could have been prevented with better security practices.

This is why the company is facing even more backlash in the form of  former employees who plan to sue Sony for failing to safeguard their personal data. Among the embarrassing email exchanges, salary details, and planned movie releases was the release of the personal information of the companies employees including their “Social Security numbers and birth dates of employees as well as information about medical conditions”[5].

All companies are different but where they all converge is how bad they are securing their own data and Sony was especially bad given that the social security numbers of Sony Pictures Entertainment co-chair and CEO were found in 104 and 93 files respectively[6]. This is why while 47,000 social security numbers were leaked, more than a million copies were available in the files hacked by the Guardians of peace[7]. The company was especially careless with its access controls to such sensitive data as the “multiple copies of data this sensitive on multiple employees' computers or multiple times on a single employee's computer is unusual and dramatically raises a company's security risk”[8].

In sum, the last few weeks have been a complete nightmare but most terrifying thing for the not so good people at Sony is that the leaks keep coming and with the company’s abysmal handling of the crisis so far, things will almost surely get worse.

[1] BBC News, 2014, Sony Pictures Computer systems Hacked in online attack,
[2] K. Dutta, 2014, George Clooney ‘loses sleep’ over bad reviews, hacked Sony emails reveal,
[3] Ibid
[4] L. Boyle, 2014, Sony Hacked Emails Reveal plans for revived Ghostbusters Franchise Starring Channing Tatum and Chris Pratt,
[5] K. Zetter, 2014, Former Employees Sue Sony over epic  hack scandal,
[6] S. Musil, 2014, Sony Hack leaked 47,000 Social Security Numbers, Celebrity data,
[7] Ibid
[8] Ibid

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