We’d like to present you with some of the fascinating background to what happened with the Sony data breaches around “The Interview” film. This blog is in a different style to those we’ve written previously, purely because there has been so much written about this subject already. Read on, you’ll be surprised….

 “Good morning and welcome to Templar TV. Today we will be focusing on unravelling the huge Sony hack story that has dominated headlines for months. The trigger for such a hack is believed to have been the film ‘The Interview’ which began filming in October 2013.

“Here with me now is a spokesperson from North Korea’s National Defence Commission. How did your country react to the film pre-release in the summer of 2014?”

North Korea Spokesperson: “Well on the 25th June our Central News Agency promised ‘stern and merciless’ retaliation if the film was released and Ja Song Narn (North Korea’s UN Ambassador) called it ‘an act of war’”.


“OK well with me now is a spokesperson from Sony Pictures, how did you react to this?”

Sony Spokesperson: “On 13th August we digitally altered the military badges in the film to avoid offence[2] and then events began to quieten down a little until 24th November- a month before the films due release.”

“What happened?”

Sony Spokesperson: “A skeletal image suddenly appeared on our computer screens saying, ‘this is just the beginning…we’ve obtained all your personal data.’ We had to work on white boards and with pens and paper, even the fax machine made an appearance!”[3]

“This led to an FBI investigation and we have a member here with us today. What statement did you issue to reassure the public?”

“We issued the statement, ‘The targeting of public and private sector computer networks remains a significant threat, and the FBI will continue to identify, pursue and defeat individuals and groups who pose a threat in cyberspace.’”[4]

“Unfortunately for the FBI the hackers were a “significant threat” and subsequently struck again. They brought far more serious consequences, here to tell us first-hand what happened is journalist Kevin Roose. Mr Roose what did you receive?”

“I received a link to a public Pastebin file (an online site comprising anonymous postings) containing the documents from an anonymous e-mailer.”

“Can you tell us about one of the documents?”

“A spreadsheet containing the salaries of more than 6,000 Sony Pictures employees, including the company’s top executives.”[5]

“The document contained names, job titles, home addresses, bonus plans, and salaries and, from the comments that North Korea had made in the summer, it looked like they were behind the attack. Some security experts believe they have found similarities between the code used in the hack and North Korean cyber attacks on South Korea in 2013.

“Returning to our North Korean spokesperson, what do you have to say to this possible allegation?”

“We do not know where in America the Sony Pictures is situated and for what wrong doings it became the target of attack…but Sony Pictures is the very one which was going to produce a film…hurting the dignity of the supreme leadership of North Korea”.[6]

“Who do you think might be behind the attack?”

“The attack might be a righteous deed of the supporters and sympathizers”.[7]

“Well here now is Michael Lynton, CEO of Sony Pictures, how do you view the attack?”

“The release of employee and other information are malicious criminal acts, and we are working closely with law enforcement.”[8]

“The hackers, then identified as Guardians of Peace, posted a message online, one of their demands being, ‘Stop immediately showing the movie of terrorism which can break the regional peace and cause the War.’[9] Mr Lyndon how did you reassure your employees that more of their personal data was not going to be breached?”

“I sent a company-wide memo saying, ‘Recognised experts are working on this matter and looking out for our security.’”[10]

“However, the Guardians of Peace then released the full inboxes of Amy Pascal and Steven Mosko (both Sony executives); the emails were both work-related and personal, the latter containing offensive remarks about employees. Hackers also obtained secret details about a new app after Mr Lynton used work emails to discuss the plans.

“Mr Lynton, do you think you were unprepared for a cyber attack, especially one of this scale?”

“We are the canary in the coal mine. There’s no playbook for this, so you are in essence trying to look at the situation as it unfolds and make decisions without being able to refer to a lot of experiences you’ve had in the past or other people’s experiences. You’re on completely new ground.”[11]

“In December the Guardians of Peace threatened to attack screenings of the film if it went ahead saying, “Soon all the world will see what an awful movie Sony Pictures Entertainment has made. The world will be full of fear. Remember the 11th of September 2001.”[12] So what did Sony decide to do?”

Sony Spokesperson: “On December 17 we decided not to continue with the planned December 25 theatrical release, especially after a White House spokesperson had called the hacking group, “A national security risk.”[13]

“What did President Obama think, did he not say that Sony had made a mistake?”

Sony Spokesperson: “He did but he also said, ‘I’m sympathetic that Sony, as a private company, was worried about liabilities. I wish they’d spoken to me first. I would have told them, ‘Do not get into a pattern in which you’re intimidated by these kinds of criminal attacks.’’”[14]

“The move also caused uproar on Twitter, with celebrities tweeting that America should stand up for freedom of expression. So what did Sony then decide?”

Sony Spokesperson: “We decided on the 23rd December that the film would have a limited theatrical release and would then be available to download.”

“Was the film a success financially?”

Sony Spokesperson: “Yes; the film made $15 million in its online release and was the company’s most downloaded title of all time.”

However, this attack will cost Sony Pictures millions, not forgetting the fact that there has been a breach of personal data which cannot be assumed to be recovered now it is in the public domain. Sony has called for journalists to delete all the leaked documents, but there is no guarantee that copies haven’t already been made or that more data won’t be released in the future. There is also the issue of increasing political tensions between the USA and North Korea (which the Guardians of Peace “cyber terrorists” have been linked to, following US beliefs of this being a state-sponsored attack). Relations have also continued to worsen after a North Korea internet blackout which America (in one guise or another) was thought to have been behind; such events, if proven, could escalate potentially into cyber warfare.

So what can companies like yours learn from these complex turn of events?

  • Firstly it is clear that companies must invest in secure Cyber Security measures; both at a technical and a people-based level.
  • For the technical level, penetration testing will reveal vulnerabilities and red teaming will check that plans – implemented or to-be-implemented – will work; these minor actions could save your company millions in the fight against hackers. Sony has been breached multiple times in the past few years and it is clear the business is going to have to part with more money, not only to fix future problems as technology develops but also to repair past damage and for reparations.
  • At the human level it can be seen from Sony that people should not use work emails to present personal views. It is vital that organisations and their employees are educated in the ways of best practice surrounding online security, from the board to frontline staff. This will secure a baseline level of knowledge preventing reputational damage.


[1] http://www.culvercityobserver.com/story/2014/12/11/news/did-north-korea-nuke-sony/4392.html – Direct Quote

[2] ‘The Metro’ newspaper 19/12/14

[3] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-30512032

[4] http://www.businessinsider.com.au/sony-cyber-hack-timeline-2014-12 – Direct Quote

[5] http://www.businessinsider.com.au/sony-cyber-hack-timeline-2014-12 – Direct Quotes

[6] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/northkorea/11278176/North-Korea-claims-cyber-attack- on-Sony-Pictures-was-righteous-deed.html – Direct Quote

[7]http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/news/sony-pictures-hack-north-korea-calls-attack-a-righteous-deed-but-denies-involvement-9909945.html – Direct Quote

[8] http://www.businessinsider.com.au/sony-cyber-hack-timeline-2014-12 – Direct Quote

[9] http://www.dazeddigital.com/artsandculture/article/22867/1/new-message-from-the-sony-hackers-surfaces-on-github – Direct Quote

[10] http://www.businessinsider.com.au/sony-cyber-hack-timeline-2014-12 – Direct Quote

[11] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-30744834 – Direct Quote

[12] http://leadingchaospodcast.com/my-interview/ – Direct Quote

[13] ‘The Metro’ newspaper 19/12/14

[14]  http://www.rollingstone.com/movies/news/barack-obama-sony-mistake-canceling-the-interview-20141219#ixzz3Q14GCyun – Direct Quote