It’s not been a very merry Christmas for Sony. What initially looked like a relatively low key security breach at Sony Pictures has turned into a worldwide scandal. The story has seen more twists and turns than The Usual Suspects, with debates now raging over morality and freedom of expression.
It all began around three week ago. Reported on the Ebuyer Blog, the world was blissfully unaware of the story that was to unravel. The hack was claimed to be carried out by the ‘Guardians of Peace’, who made a series of (what many thought were) empty threats.
“Warning: We’ve already warned you, and this is just the beginning… We have obtained all your internal data including secrets and top secrets.”
At this stage, Sony will no doubt have been rueing their luck. Hampered by a series of poor financial results, they recieved another embarrassing hammer blow by allowing someone into their network. At the time though, Sony attempted to brush the incident off. Described officially as an ‘IT matter’, Sony left many of its employees in dark as they tried to keep the details under wraps.
Rumours pondering the who, what and why of the GOP began to circulate. Suggestions that Communist led North Korea were involved at first seemed outrageous. However, the motive was there. North Korea were known to be furious about Sony Pictures’ upcoming film release, ‘The Interview’. Starring Seth Rogen and James Franco, the comedy caper revolves around two journalists who are hired by the CIA to assassinate the current North Korean leader, Kim Jong-Un.
The film takes a mocking tone of the Korean leader’s bizarre beliefs, such as his insistence he can communicate with dolphins. North Korea’s foreign ministry described the movie as an “act of war” back in June.
Suspicions of their involvement have gained momentum since they were initially asked for comment. When asked if they were behind the Sony hack, they deviously replied “Wait and see”.
The GOP’s threat to release private information became a reality soon after. Amongst the leaked files were five major cinema releases, some of which were yet to be released. Alongside the releases of upcoming titles ‘Annie’ and ‘Excipio’, the initial script to upcoming Bond film ‘Spectre’, a major source of income to Sony Pictures, found its way onto the web.
As well as these leaked financial assets, a wide range of employee information was leaked, such social security numbers and salaries. Even the stars of Hollywood were not exempt from the hack, with a number of revelations making their way onto the internet.
Included in a series of leaked emails was the confirmation female stars such as Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence were paid less than their male co-stars. Joining that was an apology sent to Sony executive Amy Pascal from George Clooney. Clooney confessed he had been losing sleep over poor reviews for 2013 movie ‘The Monuments Men’, which he directed, and apologised for letting everyone down.
The impact of the leaks was felt far and wide. Snapchat founder Evan Spiegel was left ‘devastated’ when a series of emails between him and a Sony Pictures CEO Michael Lynton (who sits on the Snapchat board), were exposed. Spiegel’s messages contained specific details about where his company was going. Elsewhere, two Sony employees are carrying law suits on Sony, infuriated by the companies lax data security.
Pioneers of Free Speech or upholding Cyber-Terrorism?
A number of Hollywood players piped up and had their say on the media’s role in releasing the leaked info. Most raucous of which was The Social Network screenwriter Aaron Sorkin. In an article written for the New York Times, Sorkin attacked the media outlets that reported the most scandalous findings from the information leak. With the GOP lobbing the ball in the air, it only took the media to “crash the boards and slam it in”. Accessories to the crime.
Not wanting to disappoint the audience, the story took another dramatic jaunt as it heads into the final act. With speculation surrounding the level of North Korea’s involvement still unconfirmed, the GOP showed their hand.
“We will clearly show it to you at the very time and places “The Interview” be shown, including the premiere, how bitter fate those who seek fun in terror should be doomed to.”
“Remember the 11th of September 2001. We recommend you to keep yourself distant from the places at that time.”
The response to the GOP’s terrorist rhetoric? Sony Pictures announced they are pulling the plug on The Interview’s planned Christmas release. Moreover, Sony have no plans to release the film in any capacity, for the time being at least. In an attempt to fill the void, many cinemas planned to show equally insulting film ‘Team America’, where this time Kim Jong-il is the villain (although these are now cancelled).
In a rather uncharacteristic move, it seems Sony, and America as a country, have been the first to wave the white flag. The White House has spoken of how they consider the hack to now be a serious national security matter. Even so, for a country that usually handles threats to its people with patriotism and a stubborn attitude, this backing down comes as a shock.
And it has been met with both shock and disapproval on social media. A number of Hollywood’s biggest stars have had their say on the cancelled release.
One of which came from Steve Carrel, who has since seen a film about North Korea cancelled:
“A sad day for creative expression,”
And Ben Stiller weighed in with:
“Really hard to believe this is the response to a threat to freedom of expression here in America.”
A Script worthy of Hollywood
….and breathe out. The anger and disappointment at Sony’s bowing to online threats is pretty much where we’re at. However, ‘Sonygate’ looks set to rumble on for quite some time, with a number of caveats and side angles to this convoluted story.
Sony’s decision to pull such an anticipated release could represent a harrowing vision of the future. Clearly under some influence from the American government, Sony have become entangled in, and subsequently lost, the first online only war. And at what cost? The damage to the freedoms of the creative mind could speak louder than the information leaks themselves. Usually so quick to point out their rights in the first amendment, America has come over a little off-colour in their act of cowardly in retreat from the cyber-battlefield. In censoring what is essentially an artistic expression, America has taken a leaf out of the enemies book.
That’s assuming of course, that North Korea are indeed behind the attack. The American government are now believed to be convinced of their involvement, but proving such a colossal allegation may prove problematic.
Is this a breakthrough moment in global warfare? Tanks and trenches have been replaced by a mouse and keyboard, and Sony are the first to fall in the age of cyber-warfare.
What’s your view on the many strings to this almighty security breach? Are Sony infringing the rights of the writers, actors and general public by halting the release of The Interview? Should they have stuck to their guns, and does this whole incident set a disturbing precedence for the future of global conflicts?
And what of the media. Have they elevated the impact of the hack by leaked confidential information, or do the people have a right to know?
Let us know your view on tech’s biggest story of 2014.