Sony Pictures Pulls ‘The Interview’ After Cyber Attacks, Threats; North Korea Suspected
With major theater chains having pulled out, Sony bowed to the inevitable, but now there appears to be proof that a foreign power is behind the Sony hacking attacks and threats of violence.
This morning, I noted that the hacking attacks on Sony Pictures that had to date resulted in the release of personal and proprietary business information belonging to the company as well as communications between top executives that has proven to be at least somewhat embarrassing inside Hollywood and elsewhere had morphed into some kind of threat of terrorism as hackers had threatened that they would unleash attacks if the company when ahead with the planned December 25th release of a movie depicting the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. As the day went on, most of the top theater chains in the country had one by one announced that they were cancelling their contracts to show the movie based on the threats, as well apparently on concerns that they too would become targets for hacking. Now, Sony Pictures has announced that they are canceling the premier altogether, and reporting breaking late is saying that American authorities have confirmed that the hacking attacks have indeed originated from North Korea:
LOS ANGELES — Sony Pictures Entertainment has dropped its plans for a Dec. 25 release of “The Interview,” a crude comedy that prompted a threat of terror against theaters.
The cancellation Wednesday afternoon came as the largest United States and Canadian film exhibitors said they would not show the movie.
In a statement, Sony said: “We respect and understand our partners’ decision and, of course, completely share their paramount interest in the safety of employees and theater-goers.”
On Wednesday afternoon, AMC Theaters, citing “the overall confusion and uncertainty” around the film, joined Carmike Cinemas, Cinemark and Regal Entertainment in dropping the film. Together, those exhibitors control more than 19,200 screens across the United States. Smaller American chains and Canada’s Cineplex Entertainment also canceled the film.
Spokesmen for AMC, Cinemark and Carmike either declined to comment or could not immediately be reached. John Fithian, chief executive of the National Association of Theater Owners, did not respond to queries. Sony had no immediate comment.
Regal said in a statement: “Due to the wavering support of the film ‘The Interview’ by Sony Pictures, as well as the ambiguous nature of any real or perceived security threats, Regal Entertainment Group has decided to delay the opening of the film.”
Several smaller chains, including Bow Tie Cinemas, with 350 screens, also decided on Wednesday not to show “The Interview,” which depicts the assassination of the North Korean ruler, Kim Jong-un, and was co-directed by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. To depict the killing of a sitting world leader, comically or otherwise, is virtually without precedent in major studio movies, film historians say.
On Tuesday a threat of terrorism against theaters that show “The Interview” was made in rambling emails sent to various news outlets. The threat read in part, “Remember the 11th of September 2001.” The emails aimed the threat at “the very times and places” at which “The Interview” was to play in its early showings.
Once the hackers threatened physical violence, the film’s cancellation became almost inevitable, even though Sony had spent a day maintaining its plans for the release and premiere. Since the Aurora, Colo., theater shooting in 2012, Cinemark had fought lawsuits with a defense that said the incident was not foreseeable — a stance that would have been virtually impossible with “The Interview.”
The film’s collapse stirred considerable animosity among Hollywood companies and players. Theater owners were angry that they had been boxed into leading the pullback. Executives at competing studios privately complained that Sony should have acted sooner or avoided making the film altogether.
And Sony employees and producers bitterly complained that they had been jeopardized to protect the creative prerogatives of Mr. Rogen and Mr. Goldberg.
The multiplex operators made their decision in the face of pressure from shopping malls, which worried that a terror threat could affect the end of holiday shopping. Similarly, studios that compete with Sony were scrambling behind the scenes to protect releases that include the latest “Hobbit” extravaganza and Disney’s “Into the Woods.”
Given the fact that every major film distributor and theater chain had made the decision to pull the film from their rotations, Sony’s decision was in some sense a foregone conclusion at this point. There may have been some independent theaters and smaller chains that still intended to run the film, although it was becoming less and less likely that this would be the case as the day went on and the large companies started pulling out of their deals one by one, and given this Sony really did not have a lot of options at this point. Nonetheless, regardless of the source of the hacking or the threats — whether it is North Korea itself, a group being paid by North Korea, or a group of hackers that have their own agenda using the controversy over this movie as an opportunity to stoke fear and show their own power to break into supposedly security computer systems — it strikes me that we’re setting a bad precedent here by giving into these threats. If all it takes to shut down content that someone doesn’t like is a hacking attack followed by terrorist threats, then what’s to stop another group from doing that about virtually any other movie or television program out there? If someone in the Middle East finds Beyonce’s music offensive and threatens to unleash terror attacks at the next concert, do we cancel all future concerts in response? Where do we draw the line? Even if this is a legitimate threat of some kind, giving in to it would only seem to guarantee that similar threats will be made in the future, and that a combination of hacking and terrorist threats will become the ‘new normal’ that we will all have to deal with by even further restricting our activities and our personal liberty. Asking Sony and the theater chains to expose themselves to the risk is asking a lot, of course, and I fully understand why they’ve made the choice that they have. At the same time, I wonder if they realize that this may just be the beginning of what they’ll have to deal with and that by giving in they are guaranteeing that it will happen again.
The biggest question overriding all of this, of course, is who might be behind the hacking attacks and the threats. The hacking attacks have claimed to be connected to the alleged insult to North Korea that the film represents, but Kim Zetter at Wired seems skeptical that North Korea is actually the source and presents a long argument that must be read in full to be understood since it defies being sufficiently excerpted, but concludes thusly:
This is likely a group of various actors who coalesce and disperse, as the Anonymous hackers did, based on their common interests. But even with that said, there is another possibility with regard to the Sony hack: that the studio’s networks weren’t invaded by a single group but by many, some with political interests at heart and others bent on extortion. Therefor, we can’t rule out the possibility that nation-state attackers were also in Sony’s network. An interesting scenario was recently posited by Deadline, suggesting that China may have initiated a breach at Sony during business negotiations with the studio last year, before handing off control to freelance hackers.
Notwithstanding Zetter’s theory, late reporting today is suggesting that Federal investigators are ready to report as early as tomorrow that they have determined that North Korea is indeed behind the hacking attacks against Sony. ABC News, for example, is reporting that a North Korean Army group is the primary suspect behind the attack:
Federal cyber-security sources close to the investigation have confirmed to ABC News that there is evidence to indicate the Sony intrusion was routed through a number of infected computers in various locations overseas, including computers in Singapore, Thailand, Italy, Bolivia, Poland and Cyprus.
The primary suspects are members of an elite North Korean cyber-security unit known as “Bureau 121,” the sources also confirmed today. But authorities have not ruled out that it could be an insider cooperating with some groups with a grudge against Sony, or an insider who helped the North Koreans.
However, the theory that the North Koreans are not involved and are just being used as cover is running far behind, one source said, because the tactics being used here are so “over the top.” Authorities have yet to see such a far-reaching and punishing hack — including the destruction of files, making public not only corporate but personal medical files, and now the threat of violence against theaters. The thinking is that even rivals or enemies of Sony would not go quite that far, sources said.
Law enforcement officials believe that group was also responsible for a malicious gaming app that infected thousands of smartphones in South Korea last fall, and an earlier attack on broadcasters and banks in that same country.
Some of the techniques and language used in the Sony hacking are similar to those used in these previous attacks in South Korea, sources said.
NBC News and CNN are reporting the same thing:
NBC News: US officials say the hacking attack on SONY originated outside North Korea, but on orders from the North Koreans
— Jesse Rodriguez (@JesseRodriguez) December 17, 2014
BREAKING: U.S. investigators determine North Korea is behind Sony hack. @evanperez reports http://t.co/2PLaxpGqQM http://t.co/2ZGyAJE6wW
— The Situation Room (@CNNSitRoom) December 17, 2014
And The New York Times is reporting the North Korea link as well:
WASHINGTON — American intelligence officials have concluded that the North Korean government was “centrally involved” in the recent attacks on Sony Pictures’s computers, a determination reached just as Sony on Wednesday canceled its release of the comedy, which is based on a plot to assassinate Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader.
Senior administration officials, who would not speak on the record about the intelligence findings, said the White House was still debating whether to publicly accuse North Korea of what amounts to a cyberterrorism campaign. Sony’s decision to cancel release of “The Interview” amounted to a capitulation to the threats sent out by hackers this week that they would launch attacks, perhaps on theaters themselves, if the movie was released.
Officials said it was not clear how the White House would decide to respond to NorthKorea. Some within the Obama administration argue that the government of Mr. Kim must be directly confronted, but that raises the question of what consequences the administration would threaten — or how much of its evidence it could make public without revealing details of how the United States was able to penetrate North Korean computer networks to trace the source of the hacking.
Others argue that a direct confrontation with the North over the threats to Sony and moviegoers might result in escalation, and give North Korea the kind of confrontation it often covets. Japan, for which Sony is an iconic corporate name, has argued that a public accusation could interfere with delicate diplomatic negotiations underway for the return of Japanese nationals kidnapped years ago.
The sudden urgency inside the administration over the Sony issue came after a new threat was delivered this week to desktop computers at Sony’s offices that if “The Interview” was released on Dec. 25, “the world will be full of fear.” It continued: “Remember the 11th of September 2001. We recommend you to keep yourself distant from the places at that time.”
While intelligence officials have concluded that the cyberattack on Sony was both state sponsored and far more destructive than any seen before on American soil, there are still differences of opinion over whether North Korea was aided by Sony insiders with an intimate knowledge of the company’s computer systems.
“This is of a different nature than past attacks,” one senior official said. A cyberattack that began by wiping out data on corporate computers — something that had previously been seen in attacks in South Korea and Saudi Arabia, but not the United States — has turned “into a threat to the safety of Americans” if the movie was shown. However, the official, echoing a statement from the Department of Homeland Security, said there was “no specific, credible threat information” that would suggest that any attack was imminent.
Assuming that this is accurate, it would certainly seem to enhance the seriousness of what, just w week ago, seemed like a hacking attack that was revealing embarrassing emails from a few Sony executives.
How do you spell coward? A-m-e-r-i-c-a.
It was tasteless to joke about about killing any actual head of state, no matter how awful they are. Even South Park crossed the line with an episode that could have incited widespread violence with Muslims. – This movie about North Korea was bound to incite problems, because the Kim family are worshipped as living gods in this strict Stalinist state. This was very irresponsible for these producers of this film to set the stage for an international incident that could lead to war between the two Koreas or terrorism at home. North Korea’s response was wrong as usual, but so was this film. Two wrongs don’t make a right here.
File this in the “capitalism actually has f*k all with freedom of any sort” cabinet.
Have to agree with you. Team America was the ultimate insult to them, and nobody backed down from that. This is disappointing.
I agree. This is cowardice from the NATO (Not that NATO, North American Theater Owners.)
Obviously Amy Pascal has bigger balls than the cowards who run the theaters. Or maybe we need some new linguistic tropes to identify courage under pressure than references to masculinity, since apparently masculinity isn’t what it was once cracked up to be.
I really hope Tokyo doesn’t pull the plug on Pascal. After hackers bent Sony Corp over last summer you’d think the company would have taken steps down through all its divisions. If anyone ought to be committing seppuku, it’s the boys in Tokyo. Fool me once, etc…
It might be time for Team America…
The word you are are looking for is guts. Integrity and courage also work.
And I despair for the American man. Most men who vote do so for the Republicans, a party of bed-wetting and responding immediately out of fear. I’m beginning to think there’s a reason liberty has traditionally been represented as a woman.
Proof that America has lost it’s will. We tremble when a 2-bit country threatens us..
I went through a phase, must be 15 years ago, of telling people that males were losing their unique and specific purposes in society and that it would have major repercussions. Men used to be the educated ones (not any longer,) the earners (less and less the case) the warriors (not 1% of American men go to war, and women fight, too.) I dropped it after one too many blank looks from my bored interlocutors.
But it’s true that in advanced societies men have nothing unique that defines them as different in societal (as opposed to biological) terms. Men have no special role, while women still have that whole “giving birth” thing they do.
You can track the changing face of macho in the movies. John Wayne gave way to Clint Eastwood who gave way to Arnold Schwarzenegger. We went from reserved-but-authoritative, to sullen-and-violent, to stupid and steroid-fueled. Now we’re in the Age of Marvel and DC as far as men go: real doesn’t even track anymore, we fall back on comic book superheroes.
Well, to be fair, American businessmen and corporations tremble and betray the country. The government is actually blowing sh-t out of people who threaten us.
It’s not us.
Imagine the liability SONY faces on this.
If they go ahead with the knowledge that something could happen, and something does happen…we’re talking billions in liability.
Tough position…but they did the right thing from a business standpoint.
If it was me…I’d release it to cable and DVD…the marketing attention is huge…and you eliminate your liability.
I watched some clips and trailers for this film a couple oweeks ago. From what I was able to see, it presented Kim in a funny way, but it looked like they also.showed him to be actually a nice guy. But the paranoia of North Korea is so entrenched and hard to crack. I would now gladly shell out $7.50 for a ticket (and $15 for popcorn and a drink) to help pack the theater just to show that bunch.
What will be next, threatening the Super Bowl, some show, or other event ? Cancelling this movie showing sets a bad precedent. I don’t think they thought this out. If North Korea does try something, burn ’em!
The government needs to track down who did this and make them pay. The implications are serious.
“bring it on !”
“you want some of this ?”
@michael reynolds: I do like Thor; a cool guy.
NATO just let a foreign terrorist state dictate what Americans can and cannot see, read or listen to. Sony tried to make a stand, NATO cut them off at the knees. In effect, Kim just silenced the American media.
Remember…the NFL already has canceled games because of terrorism.
There is a massive amount of money at risk for private corporations .
If this was a socialist nation as you guys think…we might have some recourse.
So you want a confrontation over a Seth Rogan movie?
My concern is some lone wolf doing something stupid and claiming affiliation with N. Korea.
Are we then going to start a$$-raping every Korean looking for information?
The morality of this nation is in a precarious spot.
I don’t want to see it pushed over the edge for this.
Hollywood has started cancelling every movie that mentions North Korea:
Steve Carell’s North Korea Movie ‘Pyongyang’ Canceled in Wake of Sony Hack
I did something I rarely do today, tuned into cable news, where I watched Ted Cruz talking about Cuba.
This sniveling ball of jello is a leader in today’s America? He looks like his mother still picks out his clothes for him.
We are screwed.
So we let every terrorist with a Twitter account dictate the limits of the First Amendment?
If we surrender our rights to free speech what the hell are we doing as a country? What are we worth?
You might want to think about dropping this expression. It was not very compelling the first time you used it, and it now it seems to be in every other comment you make.
This is a much bigger, much more important story than the Cuba thing. Cuba is a detail. The First Amendment is pretty close to being the definition of the United States. We cannot let Muslims bully us into censoring cartoons, and we can’t let North Korea bully us into killing movies. This is serious stuff here. We’ve just surrendered to terrorists in this case, and not even credible terrorists.
@michael reynolds: Wait, but what about all those bookstore owners who were killed for carrying The Satanic Dialogues? Surely any anonymous threat must only be met with complete and utter capitulation by capitalism. That’s the patriotic American way.
Glad to see some I don’t usually agree with here on the same playing book, but unfortunately NK isn’t playing by our book. As a northern European (lived in the Nordic lands a few years), My thought was Dane-geld, as immortalized by Kipling
“We never pay any-one Dane-geld,
No matter how trifling the cost;
For the end of that game is oppression and shame,
And the nation that pays it is lost!”
BTW, having visited a few dozen DC anti-war protests 2002-5, I don’t remember any pro-Castro groups, but I saw several groups “promoting solidarity with our North Korean Brethren,” whatever that means (my guess, crazies).
@Will: TEAM AMERICA lampooned the leaders of North Korea, not joked about the murder of them.
If our country wasn’t actually raping people in the ass for information, I would think you have a very valid point.
I know we say that we have stopped raping people in the ass, but without prosecutions, I wouldn’t assume this is anything more than a pause in the ass-raping. This is how we deal with terrorism in this country — we either cave, or we rape people in the ass and call it rectal feeding, or both.
I would prefer a stronger, less emotional response, where we stand up proud, hold true to our beliefs, and don’t rape people in the ass (or anywhere else, for that matter).
@michael reynolds: I think a lot of the comic book superheroes are closer to the traditional notion of masculine hero than Arnold Schwarzenegger’s characters.
They aren’t reserved, they have flaws, but they overcome all of that to help others and defeat the bad guy, usually without killing an entire city full of civilians in the process (I hate “Man Of Steel” even more than I hate Republicans… just trying to tie today’s threads together).
And then Black Widow comes along a completely kicks ass demonstrating that women can do it just as well if not better…
And I think these are more hopeful heroes: John Wayne never rose to a challenge, he was just better than that challenge all along.
You don’t have to have special genitals to be special. That said, I think one of the last great masculine heroes we have had in film, who really stuck into the culture, was Bruce Willis’s character in “Die Hard”.
Although, if someone were to go back in time and recast Helen Mirren in that role, she would have been great…
My point is that if you use that kind of expression over, and over, and over, it looses any power it might have and just starts to get annoying.
@Paul Hooson: Well the N Koreans seem to have spared the world another crappy unfunny comedy. And yes, making a ‘comedy’ about the assassination of an actual sitting head of state is staggeringly stupid.
Certainly the Americans would find it most unfunny if someone did the same for a living, sitting American president. Really poor idea.
@michael reynolds: What? Get a grip. They made a commercial decision. NATO is not going to war over a bloody third rate movie mate, whatever Americans delusional pretensions in the area of free speech and the like, moderately exceeding your pretensions over morality and the like.
@John425: When did Sony Pictures, a Japanese controlled corporation become “America”?
@lounsbury: One thing that should send a cold chill over U.S. military and security officials is the ability of North Korea to use computer warfare to this extent. You only know that China would be more capable yet. – These nations will use computers to bring down our computers in the event of a conflict as witnessed by this. Improved computer security needs to be one lesson of this.
I don’t know. Exhibitors aren’t known for their devotion to free speech. They self-censor via a ratings system that is widely known to be arbitrary and goofy. I mean the only way that “The Interview” wouldn’t be shown in theaters is A) if North Korea hacked Sony or B) the movie got an NC-17 rating.
So while I do think there is some merit to the “coward” angle, I also think this is just business. Hollywood’s weird that way. The “tentpole” strategy already accounts for films that make no money, so they take the hit and move on with a slate of safe internationally-appealing PG-13 fare. Hopefully, the investors stay happy.
I do wonder, though, how much this will hasten the death of the theater business. Even though I make my living from it, I wonder about it’s utility. Seems to me the only thing keeping it alive is the release window. If one didn’t have to go to the movies to see a first-run film, I don’t think one would be tempted to go to the movies very often.
This is also why I think Sony scratched the movie rather than went VOD. They can’t risk The Interview being a hit on VOD lest the release window crumble entirely.
Yeah…it’s ugly isn’t it?
There are two separate things here.
Sony, a foreign entity, would expose itself to massive liabilities should something, anything, happen. I believe they did what was in their best interest, business wise.
The American Government should indeed take action. Enough of this child-king. He should not be allowed to threaten us with impertinence. There are plenty of options here. But you are absolutely correct; we should not let these threats go unanswered.
Chait suggests that the US Government insure Sony’s liabilities related to this. Not a bad idea; he points out that we bailed out the airlines after 9.11. But I can hear the screams of socialist even now.
I agree on theaters generally. I have given up trying to wrangle family members into going to a theater. No one is interested. People today do not accept the notion of being at a particular place, at a particular time, to sit passively. My daughter’s entertainment follows her around the house, from TV to iPad to phone, upstairs, downstairs, in the house, in the car, pause, rewind.
I would actually spend far more money on movies if the theater model died. When the hype is building I often hear about movies that make me think, “I’d like to see that.” If I could point and click I’d watch it. But with some random months-long gap of time between hype and VOD I usually lose interest.
This movie should be screened at the State of the Union address by Congress, the President and VP, the SCOTUS, and Joint Chiefs. Live on all channels.
@C. Clavin: “Chait suggests that the US Government insure Sony’s liabilities related to this. Not a bad idea; he points out that we bailed out the airlines after 9.11. But I can hear the screams of socialist even now.”
Sorry, but the Republicans have now decided it’s soshulism if the government guarantees terrorism insurance. They have allowed their intellectual leader Jim Coburn kill a bill that would have kept the program going because… well, because not one of them cares enough about this country to stop the insane rantings of one of their dumbest members.
But we can’t say we hate Republicans as real estate development stops dead across the nation. Because that would be mean and it would hurt JJ’s feelings.
This particular Japanese corporation sits large and dominating in Culver City, California. The writers, director and star are American. And the First Amendment is not something we take lightly.
You don’t understand how deep the effects of this go in the creative world. We’ve just allowed terrorists to dictate what Americans will and will not see. That is intolerable.
I’ve got a trilogy called BZRK (nanotech, conspiracies, blah blah blah) in which a fictional Chinese government plays a part. Oddly, it’s a pretty flattering depiction given the overall nihilistic tone. Couple months ago I heard BZRK was being bought into China. Yay! Then a couple weeks ago I hear that the Chinese publisher wants me to change all Chinese to Russians.
I refused. So I lose that market, and I damage my publisher.
If I write another similar thriller, do I mention China at all? No. I write China out. And I write NK out. And just to be safe, better make no reference to any part of the Muslim world. Or Russia. Better stick to Canadians if I need foreigners. I have to self-censor.
Is that a great tragedy? No. Is it foreign tyrants in effect dictating terms to American creatives? Yes.
If you let media content be dictated by the world’s most brutal, you destroy the free press in the west. These people just terrorized us into accepting North Korean censorship.
Team America was pretty damn insulting to them and quite funny. We can’t censor Hollywood because of these nuts. I guess we won’t be having Muslim terrorists anymore in movies either.
I don’t think this was a demonstration of NK capability, so much as a demonstration of Sony’s lack of seriousness with regards to network security:
Sony Pictures hack was a long time coming, say former employees
It’s particularly inexcusable given that Sony has already been hit hard by hackers going after Play Station. You’d think they’d have taken that as a wake-up call — it cost them millions — and yet, apparently not.
Ah, but situation you refer to didn’t cost Sony millions. If you recall, that particular hack resulted in the compromise of billing in formation for all of the Play Station network customers. It cost Sony’s CUSTOMERS millions.
Paramount memory-holes Team America World Police:
Paramount Bans Showing ‘Team America’
Wow. I guess the ability to portray heroism does not mean one has the ability to perform heroically. Gutless. Not quite McCarthy-era blacklist gutless, but pretty craven just the same.
My only comfort comes from knowing in my heart that Matt and Trey are already (figuratively) cutting out paper dolls and recording VO to take this on.
Yeah, but will Viacom let Comedy Central air the result? Or are we back to the “201” debacle?
In terms of the effects of the ban, it’s not the McCarthy-era, but in terms of the level of gutlessness involved, I’d actually say this is actually far worse. McCarthy at least had the ability to carry through on his threats; here they’re caputlating to a threat that isn’t even realistic.
But…But…But…the Free Market!!!!
They told me the awesome power of the market place would solve all problems!
It’s as if corporations only care about the bottom line and have zero loyalty, courage or honor.
Wait a minute. Didn’t someone say corporations were people? (hint: his first name rhymes with Zitt)
Can you imagine meeting an actual person with these values? What a shameless, amoral person that would be.
It’s not clear to me how nationalizing the film industry would cause people to be more courageous.
@Stormy Dragon: Based on what I see I can fully believe that your link is correct. Sony should of wised up years ago with the early “hacks”..
God help you if you’re using the PSN…
I don’t actually blame Sony for what they did. I’m not surprised when a dog barks and I’m not surprised when a corporation puts the bottom line above all.
My point is the near deification of business we have in this country needs to be reeled in a little.
@michael reynolds: Whatever mate, for all the idiotic over the top fulminating, a 3rd to 4th rate film was pulled for commercial reasons by a Japanese controlled corporation, regardless of the nationalities of the employees (which really doesn’t enter into, frankly), albeit ones driven by threats – maybe ones from state backed actors, maybe not, but not direct state censorship action.
Your 1st amendment really has f*ck all to do with this.
This is rather more about massively inflated American self-image and an equally American tendency to loud brash histrionics.
Making an enormous deal out of this idiocy really has no point.
Not every principal requires Americans beating their chests loudly and emptily proclaiming their supposed values… Save it for something that matter.
Why torture the nation with that?
No breast beating or loud proclamations are required to simply ignore the petulant threats of a tinpot dictator. Backing down to those threats is cowardice that will only encourage more of the same. Does it matter on a larger scale? Not much, but seeing other projects cancelled and even the pulling of previously released material is abject cowardice in the face of minimal threat. Sony and Paramount are a profile in CYA cowardice.