Sony cancels release of THE INTERVIEW after 9/11-like hacker threats

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When we’re busy geeking out over comic book movie crossovers, or laughing at hilariously excited emails from Channing Tatum, it’s easy to forget that the only reason we’re seeing these peek behind Sony’s curtains, is because of a malicious, criminal hacking attack. We got a stark reminder of that fact a few days ago though, when the hackers – calling themselves Guardians of Peace – issued a threat, evoking 9/11 imagery, unless Sony halts the release of James Franco and Seth Rogen’s upcoming comedy The Interview.

For those of you not in the loop, The Interview sees Franco and Rogen as two bumbling TV personalities who get granted the opportunity to interview North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un in his normally closed-off country. This prompts the CIA to co-opt the interview and get the talk show hosts to actually assassinate the North Korean leader. When the first trailer for the movie was initially released, this prompted a very real response from the Asian country, threatening America with attacks for insulting their Supreme Leader. Most people just brushed it off as political bluster and nothing more. I mean, who would go to war over a dumb Seth Rogen movie?

Then Sony Pictures Entertainment got hacked. Personal info, embarrassing emails, movie plans, etc were all stolen and systematically released online. Initial suspicions were that North Korea may be behind the hack, as retaliation for The Interview, which was set to be released on December 25. Some even thought it was all just a viral campaign for The Interview. That was until the hackers posted a message declaring that the “world will be full of fear” on the release of the movie, and that they would show people what “bitter fate those who seek fun in terror should be doomed to.” Most chilling though, was the single line that we should “Remember the 11th of September 2001.”

Initially the US Department of Homeland Security declared there to be no credible threat, and encouraged business to just continue as normal. But then yesterday, a number of major developments occurred rather swiftly, starting with some smaller US cinemas dropping the movie from their release schedule. A few hours later the five largest US cinema chains all uniformly pulled the movie from their cinemas across the country. This was then followed up by Sony yanking all advertising and more promotional campaigns for the movie, including Franco and Rogen’s planned promo tours. The studio then issued a statement declaring that they had decided to scrap the movie’s theatrical release entirely, with a VOD release still being a possibility.

“In light of the decision by the majority of our exhibitors not to show the film The Interview, we have decided not to move forward with the planned December 25 theatrical release. We respect and understand our partners’ decision and, of course, completely share their paramount interest in the safety of employees and theater-goers.

Sony Pictures has been the victim of an unprecedented criminal assault against our employees, our customers, and our business. Those who attacked us stole our intellectual property, private emails, and sensitive and proprietary material, and sought to destroy our spirit and our morale – all apparently to thwart the release of a movie they did not like. We are deeply saddened at this brazen effort to suppress the distribution of a movie, and in the process do damage to our company, our employees, and the American public. We stand by our filmmakers and their right to free expression and are extremely disappointed by this outcome.”

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And Sony’s decision may have been a very good thing, because shortly thereafter initial suspicions were seemingly confirmed as reports started coming in from major news outlets like CNN and The New York Times, that US federal investigators had concluded that there were indeed ties between the hacker group GOP and the North Korean regime, who were “centrally involved” in this cyber-terrorist assault. An official statement from the Feds is expected to follow shortly.

This disconcerting development has left Sony no choice but to declare that they have “no further release plans” for the movie. They also released a full official statement on this entire affair, highlighting the personal impact this hacking attack has had.

As is being widely reported in the press, Sony Pictures Entertainment (SPE) experienced a significant system disruption on Monday, November 24, 2014. SPE has determined that the cause of the disruption was a brazen cyber attack. After identifying the disruption, SPE took prompt action to contain the cyber attack, engaged recognized security consultants and contacted law enforcement.

SPE learned on December 1, 2014, that the security of certain personally identifiable information about its current and former employees, and their dependents, that participated in SPE health plans and other benefits, and certain production employees potentially may have been compromised. Although SPE is in the process of investigating the scope of the cyber attack, SPE believes that the following types of personally identifiable information that such individuals provided to SPE potentially may have been obtained by unauthorized individuals: (i) name, (ii) address, (iii) social security number, driver’s license number, passport number, and/or other government identifier, (iv) bank account information, (v) credit card information for corporate travel and expense, (vi) username and passwords, (vii) compensation and (viii) other employment related information. In addition, unauthorized individuals may have obtained (ix) HIPAA protected health information, such as name, social security number, claims appeals information submitted to SPE (including diagnosis), date of birth, home address, and member ID number to the extent that the potentially impacted individuals participated in SPE health plans, and (x) health/medical information provided to SPE outside of SPE health plans.

Also on December 1, 2014, SPE began the process of notifying employees that it would be providing identity theft protection services to them and to their dependents. SPE has continued to reach out to potentially impacted individuals with notification about this situation, to offer identity protection services and to provide them with information about how to protect themselves from identity theft and other potential loss. SPE is encouraging potentially impacted employees and former employees to be especially aware of email, telephone, and postal mail scams that ask for personal or sensitive information, as neither SPE nor anyone acting on its behalf would contact them in any way, including by email, asking for credit card number, social security number/government identifier or other personally identifiable information. Individuals asked for this information can be confident SPE is not the entity asking. To protect against possible identity theft or other financial loss, SPE encourages potentially impacted employees and former employees to remain vigilant, review account statements, monitor credit reports to the extent available, change passwords and to enroll promptly in the identity theft protection services made available to them by SPE.

The purpose of this press release is to take further steps to make sure that potentially impacted individuals receive this information.

Potentially affected individuals can review the full text of individual notifications and/or obtain information about AllClear ID identity protection services that may be available to them at sonypictures.com or by calling the SPE Information and Support Hotline. The U.S. toll free number is: (866) 361-8961; the international number is: +1 (262) 222-0434.

This is just a ridiculously crazy, and completely, boot-shakingly scary story, that is continuing to evolve on an almost hourly basis. There are already several websites tossing out inflammatory headlines though about how Sony and the the cinema chains buckled too quickly to terrorist demands and that the bad guys have won as a result of that. But think about the fallout that would occur if they pressed forward with the release of the movie, in the face of this threat, and something were to happen that resulted in the loss of innocent lives. The hackers have followed through, to the letter, on every single claim they have made thus far, so it would be incredibly reckless – and arguably criminal – if this threat was not taken seriously, now that human lives were possibly on the line. No organization or entity would want that cloud of death hanging over their heads, especially not because of a dumb comedy from the guys behind Pineapple Express!

We will continue to update you guys on this unbelievable story as we hear it.

Last Updated: December 18, 2014

Kervyn Cloete

A man of many passions - but very little sleep - I've been geeking out over movies, video games, comics, books, anime, TV series and lemon meringues as far back as I can remember. So show up for the geeky insight, stay for the delicious pastries.

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