An Idiots Guide to The Sony Pictures Email Hack

There’s no doubt you’ve heard plenty about the the Sony Pictures Entertainment hack. In fact, you’ve probably heard a bit too much—there are gigabytes upon gigabytes of leaked documents on pastebin, with thousands of pages of material that as many people are poring though. Point is, we’ll never know all of the details hidden inside the documents leaked to this point. And that’s fine—it’s hard enough keeping all that’s been reported straight as it is. So, if you’re looking for a little clarity or are just starting to dive into this horror show, let’s see if we can get you sorted. What follows is by no means comprehensive, but it should give you a good general idea of where we are right now.

When did this start?

A while ago. Of course, Sony is no stranger to getting hacked, but this particular attack was first reported on November 24 by Business2Community, when, incredibly, all of the computers in all United States Sony Pictures office displayed an image of a skeleton with threats to release internal data if the hackers’ demands—then unknown—were not met. Then, they followed through on those threats.

Who are the hackers?

The only thing known for sure is that they call themselves the GOP—Guardians of Peace, not the Republicans. According to a Bloomberg report (which, it must be said, relies on a single anonymous source), the group of hackers used a Bangkok hotel as a base of operations, although it’s unclear whether that was where they did the hacking or was just where they uploaded the stolen files. The prevailing and increasingly unlikely theory is that the attack was sponsored by the North Korean government in retaliation for The Interview, that stupid wannabe Inglourious Basterds James Franco movie coming out this month, wherein he plays a talk show host commissioned by the CIA to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

However, the evidence pointing to North Korea is almost entirely circumstantial, and while North Korea may very well have the resources to pull off a hack like this, they aren’t the only ones, and Sony has been such a punching bag for hacking attacks that it hardly makes sense to narrow down the list of suspects so soon. And, for what it’s worth, North Korea has denied involvement with the attack, although they’re definitely offering high-fives and fist bumps to whoever did do it.

What got leaked?

A lot. Entire movies—Fury, Annie, Mr. Turner, and Still Alice, the latter of which isn’t even to hit theaters until January. The script for the new James Bond movie, Spectre, was leaked in its entirety. Internal presentations and staff emails were released en masse. Worse still, unencrypted passwords of all Sony Pictures Employees were released, partly because Sony stored them in unencrypted files that actually had the ‘passwords’ in the names. It’s like if you took all of your passwords and user names, put them in a spreadsheet, named the file ‘Passwords.xls,’ and just left it right on your desktop. That’s what Sony’s IT department has on their hands. Employees also had personal information like Social Security Numbers and phone numbers leaked.

In the process, hiring decisions and salary information was brought to light, revealing a pretty staggering gender pay and hiring gap, even at the very highest levels of leadership at Sony Pictures Entertainment.

Why has there been such a huge upswing in celebrity gossip?

Right, so, like we said, internal emails were leaked. Some of those internal emails belonged to Amy Pascal, co-chairman of SPE, and her exchanges with various people in the industry is where the bulk of the particularly nasty brand of Hollywood gossip has come from. Unkind things were written about Jaden and Willow Smith, Aaron Sorkin, and Kevin Hart. There are behind-the-scenes looks at how Sony lost the other Steve Jobs biopic in excruciating detail, with plenty of digs at Angelina Jolie, who wanted David Fincher to direct her new Cleopatra movie instead of the Jobs movie. A new Cameron Crowe movie is shown to be unpopular internally, and seems all but sure to be DOA when it hits theaters. Pascal and producer Scott Rudin had an email exchange where they played a game of who can name the most ‘black movies,’ as part of some unfunny banter about President Obama’s supposed favorite movies. And, again, this is likely just the tip of the iceberg.

It wasn’t all awful. A Channing Tatum email contains the longest HAHAHAHHA string of all time. Jerry Seinfeld helped a Sony executive with some car stuff. But otherwise, it was the worst kind of trash talking.

Why are the hackers doing this?

Casting even more doubt on the North Korean theory is an email leaked along with one of the many data dumps, which revealed an extortion email from the hackers to Sony execs demanding money in exchange for secrecy. The Mashable report about the email also mention a freelance reporter who had received a friendly email from the hackers along with a poorly-translated phrase written in Korean at the bottom.

More recently, the GOP has demanded that Sony pull the plug on The Interview before it hits theaters on Christmas Day. Does that mean the hack was done by North Korea, or by pranksters pretending to be North Korea for, as they would term it, ‘the lulz?’ Hell, who knows?

What’s the latest?

The hacker group, or someone claiming to be them, has promised violent retribution at theaters that show The Interview on Christmas Day, stating ‘The world will be full of fear. Remember the 11th of September 2001. We recommend you to keep yourself distant from the places at that time. (If your house is nearby, you’d better leave.) Whatever comes in the coming days is called by the greed of Sony Pictures Entertainment.’ It’s a ludicrous threat on its face, considering that The Interview is slated for release at thousands of theaters across the nation. The messages from the hackers (if it’s them) have become increasingly farcical in style, too, sounding more like a bad attempt at poor ESL than an actual, concerted effort by a government. After all, the North Korean government seems unhinged at times, but you don’t stay in power for decades by being genuinely unhinged. At this point, the North Korea theory seems based more on stereotype than fact—hey, that sounds kinda like The Interview! Get your James Franco conspiracy theories started.

That said, Sony is considering pulling The Interview anyway—if nothing else, probably because the whole thing has become such a debacle, it might be better just to move on. The LA Times is now reporting that Sony has given permission to theaters to pull The Interview at their discretion, making it even more likely that the movie might be put out of its misery sooner rather than later.


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