Hackers calling themselves the Guardians of Peace made life miserable for Sony Pictures Entertainment, all supposedly to prevent the release of a “The Interview” on Christmas Day 2014.
Since at least late November 2014, hackers stole and revealed massive amounts of information from Sony, including some employees’ Social Security numbers, salaries of some top executives, an early script for its latest James Bond film, and embarrassing e-mail exchanges between Sony executives mocking Will Smith’s children, insulting Leonardo DiCaprio for pulling out of a film project, and soothing George Clooney about bad reviews. In addition, hackers have directly threatened Sony employees in broken English: “Please sign your name to object the false of the company at the email address below if you don’t want to suffer damage. If you don’t, not only you but your family will be in danger.”
The FBI is surely interested and is investigating the source(s). Cybercrime experts have noticed remarkable similarities in the coding for these attacks and 2013 cyberattacks orchestrated by North Korea against South Korean businesses and governmental agencies. North Korea has predictably denied any involvement in the cyber-attacks and threats. At this juncture, experts are unsure of whether the attacks are from private individuals or from the North Korean government itself.
All this nastiness is supposedly due to a movie: “The Interview,” a comedy starring Seth Rogen and James Franco that includes a fictional assassination attempt on that country’s leader, Kim Jong Un. The Guardians of Peace (GOP) tried to prevent the movie’s premiere on Christmas Day 2014 and has threatened a “Christmas gift to come.”
Sony fought back, holding a town hall meeting with its employees, sending letters to news agencies urging them to avoid airing the stolen data and initially keeping the scheduled release date for “The Interview.” The FBI also advised Sony employees on ways to protect their private data, just as the agency surely confidentially advised Sony on protecting its company data.
On December 17, 2014, the GOP threatened attacks on any movie theaters airing the film. Some theater chains, such as AMC and Regal, pulled the film from release for security concerns. On December 18, 2014, Sony Pictures pulled the film from wide release on Christmas and instead released the film to select theaters and bootleg websites. The film is available on YouTube Movies, Google Play, PlayStation Store, Xbox Video, iTunes and Amazon Instant Video.
In some respects, the censorship-by-hacking backfired. Though the film received mixed critical reviews, it received $6+ million in U. S. box office despite extremely limited release and $40+ million in digital rentals, becoming Sony’s biggest digital rental hit in history.
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