North Korea named Culprit, President Obama, Sony, and George Clooney talk The Interview. On December 19, 2014, the FBI announced that they believe that the North Korean government was responsible for the hacking of Sony Pictures Entertainment via cyber proxies the Guardians of Peace. That does not mean that they are in fact responsible. It means that from the evidence that the FBI has gathered, they believe they are the responsible party, the organization pulling the strings behind the hackers. The real question is whether or not what they found translates into something they can bring before the International Court System (the primary judicial branch of the United Nations) or not.
The FBI official press release on their findings:
Today, the FBI would like to provide an update on the status of our investigation into the cyber attack targeting Sony Pictures Entertainment (SPE). In late November, SPE confirmed that it was the victim of a cyber attack that destroyed systems and stole large quantities of personal and commercial data. A group calling itself the “Guardians of Peace” claimed responsibility for the attack and subsequently issued threats against SPE, its employees, and theaters that distribute its movies.
The FBI has determined that the intrusion into SPE’s network consisted of the deployment of destructive malware and the theft of proprietary information as well as employees’ personally identifiable information and confidential communications. The attacks also rendered thousands of SPE’s computers inoperable, forced SPE to take its entire computer network offline, and significantly disrupted the company’s business operations.
After discovering the intrusion into its network, SPE requested the FBI’s assistance. Since then, the FBI has been working closely with the company throughout the investigation. Sony has been a great partner in the investigation, and continues to work closely with the FBI. Sony reported this incident within hours, which is what the FBI hopes all companies will do when facing a cyber attack. Sony’s quick reporting facilitated the investigators’ ability to do their jobs, and ultimately to identify the source of these attacks.
As a result of our investigation, and in close collaboration with other U.S. Government departments and agencies, the FBI now has enough information to conclude that the North Korean government is responsible for these actions. While the need to protect sensitive sources and methods precludes us from sharing all of this information, our conclusion is based, in part, on the following:
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 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.
We are deeply concerned about the destructive nature of this attack on a private sector entity and the ordinary citizens who worked there. Further, North Korea’s attack on SPE reaffirms that cyber threats pose one of the gravest national security dangers to the United States. Though the FBI has seen a wide variety and increasing number of cyber intrusions, the destructive nature of this attack, coupled with its coercive nature, sets it apart. North Korea’s actions were intended to inflict significant harm on a U.S. business and suppress the right of American citizens to express themselves. Such acts of intimidation fall outside the bounds of acceptable state behavior. The FBI takes seriously any attempt – whether through cyber-enabled means, threats of violence, or otherwise – to undermine the economic and social prosperity of our citizens.
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. Further, the FBI will continue to work closely with multiple departments and agencies as well as with domestic, foreign, and private sector partners who have played a critical role in our ability to trace this and other cyber threats to their source. 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.
Later the very same day, with that report in hand, United States President Barak Obama spoke about the decision by Sony Pictures Entertainment to cancel the release of The Interview.
“Sony’s a corporation, it suffered significant damage, there were threats against its employees. I am sympathetic to the concerns that they faced … having said all that, yes, I think they made a mistake,” he confirmed at the previously scheduled year-end press conference before he headed off on his family vacation.
“We cannot have a society in which some dictator in some place can start imposing censorship here in the U.S. If somebody can intimidate folks out of releasing a satirical comedy, imagine what they’ll do when they see a documentary or political film they don’t like?
“That’s not what we are, that’s not what America’s about. I’m sympathetic that some private company was worried about liabilities. I wish they’d spoken to me first. Do not get into a pattern in which we’re intimidated by these kind of criminal attacks,” he emphasized.
“I think it says something interesting about North Korea that they decided to have the state mount an all out assault on a movie studio because of a satirical movie starring Seth Rogen and James Flacco,” the president went on to say, mispronouncing “The Interview” co-star James Franco‘s name.
“And I love James, but the notion that that was a threat to [North Korea], I think, gives you a sense of the kind of regime we’re talking about here. They caused a lot of damage, and we will respond; we will respond proportionally, and we will respond in a place and time that we choose.”
“We just confirmed that it was North Korea, we have been working up a range of options, they will be presented to me,” he announced later in the press conference. “I will make a decision on that based on what I believe is proportional and appropriate to the nature of this crime … It’s not something I will announce today at a press conference. Right now it’s the Wild West. This is part of the reason for Congress to work with us to get the bill passed.”
Sony Pictures’ official response:
“Sony Pictures Entertainment is and always has been strongly committed to the First Amendment. For more than three weeks, despite brutal intrusions into our company and our employees’ personal lives, we maintained our focus on one goal: getting the film The Interview released. Free expression should never be suppressed by threats and extortion.
The decision not to move forward with the December 25 theatrical release of The Interview was made as a result of the majority of the nation’s theater owners choosing not to screen the film. This was their decision.
Let us be clear – the only decision that we have made with respect to release of the film was not to release it on Christmas Day in theaters, after the theater owners declined to show it. Without theaters, we could not release it in the theaters on Christmas Day. We had no choice.
After that decision, we immediately began actively surveying alternatives to enable us to release the movie on a different platform. It is still our hope that anyone who wants to see this movie will get the opportunity to do so.”
Sony Pictures CEO Michael Lynton on President Obama’s statement:
“We have not caved. We have not given in. We have persevered, and we have not backed down. We have always had every desire to have the American public see this movie.”
Lynton today explained that when theaters started dropping out, “we had no alternative but to not proceed with the theatrical release on the 25th of December. And that’s all we did.”
“The unfortunate part is… The President, the press, and the public are mistaken as to what actually happened. We do not own movie theaters. We cannot decide what will be played in movie theaters,” Lynton told CNN.
In his CNN interview set to air in full on Anderson Cooper’s AC360 at 5PM PT/8PM ET, Lynton made a point of contradicting Obama’s statement that Sony had not asked for his help.
“I did reach out,” said Lynton, who said Sony indeed sought assistance from the President. “We definitely spoke to a senior advisor in the White House to talk about the situation. The White House was certainly aware of the situation.”
Lynton says Sony still wants The Interview to be seen and is considering their options. Those include DVD and Blu-ray home video, YouTube, VOD, and other digital platforms but “there has not been one major VOD distributor, one major e-commerce site that has stepped forward and said they are willing to distribute this movie for us,” he said.
“We would still like the public to see this movie, absolutely.”
CEO Michael Lynton is mistaken. There is one distributor that will touch The Interview: Bittorrent. Through their Bittorrent Bundle service, they would deliver the film to the masses. “BitTorrent Director of Communications Christian Averil” issued this statement:
Like everyone else around the world, we’ve been following this egregious hacking of Sony’s servers over the past few weeks.
A trend has emerged among commentary in the days since Sony announced they would not release the motion picture, “The Interview.” There have been calls for Sony to release the film online. And many have contacted us asking: Would they be able to release the movie using BitTorrent?
Though we normally would not offer commentary during such a trying time for another company, the answer is yes. BitTorrent Bundle is in fact the very best way for Sony to take back control of their film, to not acquiesce to terrorists threats, and to ensure a wide audience can view the film safely. It would also strike a strong note for free speech.
Bundle has a self-publishing platform that anyone from Sony can use. Using the paygate option, Sony are able to set the price for the film and release it widely without implicating anyone or exposing any third party to a terrorist threat.
We disagree, however, with some that have suggested that Sony should make the film available through piracy sites. That would only serve to encourage bad actors. It’s also important to make the distinction that these piracy sites are not “torrent sites.” They are piracy sites that are wrongfully exploiting torrent technology.
BitTorrent Bundle is a safe and legal way for Sony to release this film and they would join the nearly 20,000 creators and rights holders now using the Bundle publishing platform.
Actor George Clooney is one of the many celebrities in Sony’s corner and is all for the film being seen by the public. He even engineered a petition of support for Sony Pictures but could not get anyone in Hollywood to sign it out of fear of reprisals from the hackers.
On November 24 of this year, Sony Pictures was notified that it was the victim of a cyber attack, the effects of which is the most chilling and devastating of any cyber attack in the history of our country. Personal information including Social Security numbers, email addresses, home addresses, phone numbers and the full texts of emails of tens of thousands of Sony employees was leaked online in an effort to scare and terrorize these workers. The hackers have made both demands and threats. The demand that Sony halt the release of its upcoming comedy The Interview, a satirical film about North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. Their threats vary from personal—you better behave wisely—to threatening physical harm—not only you but your family is in danger. North Korea has not claimed credit for the attack but has praised the act, calling it a righteous deed and promising merciless measures if the film is released. Meanwhile the hackers insist in their statement that what they’ve done so far is only a small part of our further plan. This is not just an attack on Sony. It involves every studio, every network, every business and every individual in this country. That is why we fully support Sony’s decision not to submit to these hackers’ demands. We know that to give in to these criminals now will open the door for any group that would threaten freedom of expression, privacy and personal liberty. We hope these hackers are brought to justice but until they are, we will not stand in fear. We will stand together.
Clooney has gone on the record about the fear culture created by the hacking:
DEADLINE: How could this have happened, that terrorists achieved their aim of cancelling a major studio film? We watched it unfold, but how many people realized that Sony legitimately was under attack?
GEORGE CLOONEY: A good portion of the press abdicated its real duty. They played the fiddle while Rome burned. There was a real story going on. With just a little bit of work, you could have found out that it wasn’t just probably North Korea; it was North Korea. The Guardians of Peace is a phrase that Nixon used when he visited China. When asked why he was helping South Korea, he said it was because we are the Guardians of Peace. Here, we’re talking about an actual country deciding what content we’re going to have. This affects not just movies, this affects every part of business that we have. That’s the truth. What happens if a newsroom decides to go with a story, and a country or an individual or corporation decides they don’t like it? Forget the hacking part of it. You have someone threaten to blow up buildings, and all of a sudden everybody has to bow down. Sony didn’t pull the movie because they were scared; they pulled the movie because all the theaters said they were not going to run it. And they said they were not going to run it because they talked to their lawyers and those lawyers said if somebody dies in one of these, then you’re going to be responsible.
We have a new paradigm, a new reality, and we’re going to have to come to real terms with it all the way down the line. This was a dumb comedy that was about to come out. With the First Amendment, you’re never protecting Jefferson; it’s usually protecting some guy who’s burning a flag or doing something stupid. This is a silly comedy, but the truth is, what it now says about us is a whole lot. We have a responsibility to stand up against this. That’s not just Sony, but all of us, including my good friends in the press who have the responsibility to be asking themselves: What was important? What was the important story to be covering here? The hacking is terrible because of the damage they did to all those people. Their medical records, that is a horrible thing, their Social Security numbers. Then, to turn around and threaten to blow people up and kill people, and just by that threat alone we change what we do for a living, that’s the actual definition of terrorism.
DEADLINE: I’ve been chasing the story of the petition you were circulating for a week now. Where is it, and how were these terrorists able to isolate Sony from the herd and make them so vulnerable?
CLOONEY: Here’s the brilliant thing they did. You embarrass them first, so that no one gets on your side. After the Obama joke, no one was going to get on the side of Amy, and so suddenly, everyone ran for the hills. Look, I can’t make an excuse for that joke, it is what it is, a terrible mistake. Having said that, it was used as a weapon of fear, not only for everyone to disassociate themselves from Amy but also to feel the fear themselves. They know what they themselves have written in their emails, and they’re afraid.
DEADLINE: What kind of constraints will this put on storytellers that want to shine a critical light on a place like Russia, for instance, with something like a movie about the polonium poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko, the KGB officer who left and became an outspoken critic of Vladimir Putin?
CLOONEY: What’s going to happen is, you’re going to have trouble finding distribution. In general, when you’re doing films like that, the ones that are critical, those aren’t going to be studio films anyway. Most of the movies that got us in trouble, we started out by raising the money independently. But to distribute, you’ve got to go to a studio, because they’re the ones that distribute movies. The truth is, you’re going to have a much harder time finding distribution now. And that’s a chilling effect. We should be in the position right now of going on offense with this. I just talked to Amy an hour ago. She wants to put that movie out. What do I do? My partner Grant Heslov and I had the conversation with her this morning. Bryan and I had the conversation with her last night. Stick it online. Do whatever you can to get this movie out. Not because everybody has to see the movie, but because I’m not going to be told we can’t see the movie. That’s the most important part. We cannot be told we can’t see something by Kim Jong-un, of all f*cking people.
I do know something about the news world. I was sitting on the floors of newsrooms since I was seven years old, and I’ve been around them my whole life. I understand that someone looks at a story with famous people in it and you want to put it out. OK. It’s a drag, and it’s lame. But there’s not much you can do about it. You can’t legislate good taste. The problem is that what happened was, while all of that was going on, there was a huge news story that no one was really tracking. They were just enjoying all the salacious sh*t instead of saying, “Wait a minute, is this really North Korea? And if it is, are we really going to bow to that?” You could point fingers at Sony pulling the film, but they didn’t have any theaters, they all pulled out. By the way, the other studios were probably very happy because they had movies of their own going in for Christmas at the same cineplexes. There’s this constant circle, this feeding frenzy. What I’m concerned about is content. I’m concerned that content now is constantly going to be judged on a different level. And that’s a terrible thing to do. What we don’t need happening in any of our industries is censorship. The FBI guys said this could have happened to our government. That’s how good these guys were. It’s a serious moment in time that needs to be addressed seriously, as opposed to frivolously. That’s what is most important here.
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