UNITED STATES—On November 24, employees at Sony Pictures Entertainment in Culver City logged into their computers to find that they had been hacked by a group called, “Guardians of Peace.” Their network had been crippled, and all their personal information stolen.
The immediate suspect of the Sony breach was North Korea, who had previously declared the upcoming Sony Pictures comedy flick, “The Interview,” in which Seth Rogen and James Franco depict an assassination attempt on North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, an “act of war.”
North Korea vowed “merciless” retaliation.
The Sony hack revealed private emails in which Hollywood producer Scott Rudin and Sony Pictures co-chairman Amy Pascal made racist jokes about President Obama and described actress Angelina Jolie as a “spoiled brat.” They later apologized for those comments.
The breach also revealed 32,000 emails to and from Sony Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton from November 2008 until November 2014 and an early version of the screenplay for the next James Bond movie called “SPECTRE.”
Following the White House’s suspicion that North Korea was behind the devastating cyberattack, the FBI formally concluded, on December 19, that “the North Korean government is responsible for these actions.”
The FBI explained in a National Press Release how they determined their conclusion:
- Technical analysis of the data deletion malware used in this attack revealed links to other malware that the FBI knows North Korean actors previously developed. For example, there were similarities in specific lines of code, encryption algorithms, data deletion methods, and compromised networks.
- The FBI also observed significant overlap between the infrastructure used in this attack and other malicious cyber activity the U.S. government has previously linked directly to North Korea. For example, the FBI discovered that several Internet protocol (IP) addresses associated with known North Korean infrastructure communicated with IP addresses that were hardcoded into the data deletion malware used in this attack.
- Separately, the tools used in the SPE (Sony Picture Entertainment) attack have similarities to a cyber attack in March of last year against South Korean banks and media outlets, which was carried out by North Korea.
In response to the “Guardians of Peace’s” threats to retaliate in response to the releasing of “The Interview,” Lynton shelved the movie, but insisted he did not “cave.” He explained that movie theaters decided not to show the movie and thus forced Sony to pull the movie altogether, asserting to CNN that “We do not own movie theaters. We cannot determine whether or not a movie will be played in movie theaters.”
President Obama said that the hack was “an act of cybervandalism that was very costly, very expensive,” but he did not consider it to be an act of war. And as a result of the offense, Obama told CNN in an interview that he would review whether to put North Korea back on the list of states that sponsor terrorism.
Republican Senator John McCain disagreed with Obama’s perception of the matter and instead of seeing it as “an act of cybervandalism,” he rather describes it as “a new form of warfare.”
Senator McCain argued that since this hack has greater implications on the economy, “it’s more than vandalism. It’s a new form of warfare that we’re involved in and we need to react and we need to react vigorously.”
Obama said that the United States will “respond proportionally.”
On Monday, December 22, North Korea experienced near total internet outages for almost 10 hours. The outages continued onto Tuesday as well. The White House and the State Department on Monday remained tight-lipped on whether the U.S. had a role in North Korea’s Internet blackouts.
In a statement on December 23, Lynton said that the Sony Picture Entertainment will release “The Interview” in select theaters on Christmas Day. This comes as a surprise as Sony had been previously reluctant to release it at all.
Lynton stated, “We have never given up on releasing ‘The Interview’ and we’re excited our movie will be in a number of theaters on Christmas Day.” He also said that he’s working to “secure more platforms and more theaters so that this movie reaches the largest possible audience.”
As far as potential future data breaches, the FBI would like US companies to know that “The FBI stands ready to assist any U.S. company that is the victim of a destructive cyber attack or breach of confidential business information….Working together, the FBI will identify, pursue, and impose costs and consequences on individuals, groups, or nation states who use cyber means to threaten the United States or U.S. interests.”