Professionalism/Response to Sony Hack of 2014

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The Sony Pictures Entertainment hack refers to the November 24, 2014 release of confidential data by hackers calling themselves the “Guardians of Peace” (GOP). According to an email sent to Ars Technica, a technology news and information website, by “the boss” of the GOP, “tens of TB” of data had been collected.[1] Included in the released information were social security numbers of thousands of employees, bank account information, compensation information, and five previously unreleased films.[2][3] On December 16, the GOP threatened terrorist action if the release of the film The Interview was not canceled.[4]

This chapter focuses on the professional ethics involved in the response to the Sony hack of 2014.

Response[edit | edit source]

Sony Corporation[edit | edit source]

On December 16, 2014, the GOP threatened violence against theaters showing The Interview, explicitly naming the film for the first time. The GOP warned, "The world will be full of fear. Remember the 11th of September 2001."[5][6] Sony initially responded to the threats of violence by providing security to key producers and actors involved in The Interview.[5] The movie's premiere at Landmark's Sunshine Cinema in New York City was scheduled for the same day. The theater decided to cancel the screening, and Sony tried in vain to secure a new venue.[5][7] The National Organization of Theater Owners released a statement the next day, stating that "individual cinema operators may decide to delay exhibition of the movie so that our guests may enjoy a safe holiday movie season experiencing the many other exciting films we have to offer."[8] Sony expressed support for theaters by giving them the choice to show or cancel the film, but confirmed that they would continue with the movie's release.[9] Carmike Cinemas decided to not show the film,[9] followed by Regal Cinemas, AMC Entertainment, and Cinemark Theaters.[10][11][12][13] On December 17, 2014, Sony released a decision to cancel the December 25, 2014 theatrical release of the film.[11][12][14][15][16][17][13] Later that day, the media was already circulating rumors of a possible video-on-demand release.[18] Sony was quick to rebut the speculations, asserting that there were "no further release plans" for the film.[19]

After the FBI released a statement that North Korea was behind the cyber attack,[20] Sony faced mounting criticism for appeasing terrorists and not standing up for free speech. President Obama publicly called Sony's decision to cancel the movie's release a mistake, and by December 23, 2014, Sony Pictures reversed its decision.[7] Sony's CEO and Chairman Michael Lynton said that Sony had "never given up on releasing The Interview" and planned a "limited release" of the film on Christmas day at independent theaters.[21] Sony continued its "efforts to secure more platforms" to distribute the movie,[22][23] and released the film through YouTube and Google Play on December 24, 2014.[24][7] followed by screenings at about 200 of the original 3,800 theaters planning to screen the film.[25] In its first five days, the movie earned almost $3 million in theaters and $15 million online, becoming Sony's highest grossing online release.[26] By year's end, Sony secured deals to release The Interview with most cable Video On Demand services and planned to make the film available through its PlayStation Network.[27][28] On January 14, 2015, Sony Pictures Entertainment announced through PRNewswire that a "Freedom Edition" of the film The Interview would be available on DVD and Blu-ray beginning Feburary 17, 2015.[29]

Other Corporations[edit | edit source]

Hustler Video founder and chairman Larry Flynt announced on December 19, 2014 that Hustler would produce a pornographic parody of Sony's film The Interview. Flynt championed his right to free speech and anticipated that This Ain't The Interview XXX would be produced in early 2015.[30]

New Regency responded to the incidents by canceling Gore Verbinski's film Pyongyang featuring Steve Carell, just a month before its set start date in March 2015. The movie, a "paranoid thriller," told the story of a Westerner struggling to work in North Korea's capital city.[31]

Several of Sony's competitors may have covertly supported pulling The Interview from theaters during the industry's critical holiday movie season.[10] Warner Bros. CEO Kevin Tsujihara later expressed regret that the firm had not expressed public support for Sony as the events of the hack unfolded.[32]

United States Government[edit | edit source]

Immediately following the hack, many U.S. law enforcement agencies began researching whether the hack could be linked to North Korea.[3] The FBI warned all U.S. businesses about additional hacks by providing the technical details about the malware that was used in the Sony attack.[33] Sixteen days after the attack, FBI Director James Comey announced that investigators had not yet determined who was responsible for the cyber attack.[34] On December 18, U.S. officials concluded that the North Korean government ordered the cyber attack on Sony.[35] The FBI explained that the revelation was based on technical analysis linking North Korean-developed malware such as lines of code and encryption algorithms to the hack.[36] At this time, the White House was vague about what form a response might take, only saying that it considered this hack a "serious national security matter" and would plan a "proportional response."[37] An overly harsh U.S. response could provoke Pyongyang.[38]

The White House claimed that Sony did not reach out to them to discuss canceling the release of The Interview.[39] After Sony cancelled the release of the film, Obama said he believed Sony had made a mistake, "imagine if producers start engaging in self-censorship because they don't want to offend the sensibilities of somebody whose sensibilities probably need to be offended. That's not who we are."[36] John Carlin, the assistant attorney general for national security, assured the nation that "we will continue to do our part to protect and defend our nation from the asymmetric threats posed through cyberspace."[36] Obama said North Korea appeared to have acted alone. Washington began consultations with Japan, China, South Korea, and Russia for assistance in "reining in" North Korea.[38]

On December 22, the State Department Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf urged North Korea to "exercise restraint" and "refrain from any further threatening actions," and reassured the United States that the U.S. had "no specific credible threat information that lends credence" to North Korea's larger threats of attacking the United States.[40] The following day, the State Department had to respond to claims that the U.S. was involved in a reported Internet outage in North Korea.[41] A few days later though, the White House refused to deny North Korea's accusations that the U.S. shut down the country's Internet, saying that the "claim wasn't worthy of an answer."[42]

On the second day of the new year, Obama authorized additional sanctions on North Korea targeting the country's primary intelligence organization.[43] The FBI Director, James Comey, presented more information about the hack, saying that the hackers "got sloppy" in that they used IP addresses that have been linked to North Koreans.[44]

North Korean Government[edit | edit source]

Even before the hack, North Korea's response to The Interview movie was not positive.[45] Kim Myong-chol, an unofficial spokesman for the North Korean regime in Pyongyang, said "this storyline shows the desperation of the U.S. government and American society."[45] Two weeks after the cyber attack, North Korea released a statement calling the Sony cyber attack a "righteous deed" but did not take full responsibility and threatened that "the righteous reaction will get stronger to smash the evil doings."[46]

On December 20, North Korea proposed a joint investigation with the United States on the cyber attack against Sony Pictures.[47] On this same day, North Korea vowed to boost its nuclear power, saying it had become apparent that the United States aimed to invade North Korea because of human rights abuse.[38] After North Korea's internet service was shut down merely weeks after the Sony attack, North Korea accused the U.S. and referred to President Obama as "a monkey."[48] In response to U.S. sanctions, North Korea warned the U.S., saying that the U.S. should "roll back its hostile policy towards the DPRK of its own accord if it does not want to suffer a war disaster."[49]

Since January, neither the U.S. nor North Korea has made major statements about this cyber attack.

The Interview Actors and Directors[edit | edit source]

Seth Rogen and James Franco, the main actors in The Interview, canceled media appearances related to the film, including appearances on "Late Night with Seth Meyers," "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon," and "Buzzfeed Brews." Although the New York premiere was canceled, the two attended the Los Angeles Premiere but forwent press interviews.[50]

The Media[edit | edit source]

On December 9, the GOP posted emails sent by Amy Pascal, the Co-Chairperson of Sony Pictures Entertainment at the time of the hack.[51] Several media outlets wrote articles centered on the content of the private emails sent by Pascal: "Producer: Jolie a ‘spoiled brat’ from ‘Crazyland’" in the New York Post,[52] "Shocking New Reveals From Sony Hack: J. Law, Pitt, Clooney, and Star Wars" in The Daily Beast,[53] "Sony's Hacked Emails Highlight Hollywood's Problems With Diversity" in The Huffington Post,[54] "Leaked Sony Emails Reveal Angelina Jolie Was Called A 'Minimally Talented Spoiled Brat'" on BuzzFeed News.[55] Aaron Sorkin criticized these news outlets writing, "If you close your eyes you can imagine the hackers sitting in a room, combing through the documents to find the ones that will draw the most blood. And in a room next door are American journalists doing the same thing. As demented and criminal as it is, at least the hackers are doing it for a cause. The press is doing it for a nickel."[56] In a Q&A with, George Clooney agreed, stating, "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?'" referring to the media's focus on the content of the dumped emails.[57]

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

Each group responded to the hack in the way they viewed as adhering to professional ethics. Movie theaters chose to cancel the premier of The Interview, taking caution in light of threats to safety. President Obama was quick to publicize his condemnation of Sony's choice not to release the film, taking a firm position that adheres to the American right of free speech. The North Korean government responded with a statement consistent with its volatile relationship with the United States.

Participants engaged in reactive decision-making, defined as "a decision made by an individual in response to the influence or goals of others."[58] Movie theaters responded under pressure after the threat of terrorist action. Sony then canceled the release of the film in response to the movie theaters' decision. Sony then released the film online presumably in response to criticism of their previous decision. Making decisions quickly, under pressure, and under the influence of other participants can lead to making a decision that is later regretted, altered, or reversed.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Sean Gallagher (December 2, 2014). "Sony Pictures hack gets uglier, North Korea won't deny responsibility". Ars Technica. Retrieved February 18, 2015. 
  2. "Sony Pictures Entertainment Notice Letter" (PDF). State of California Department of Justice Office of the Attorney General. December 8, 2014. Retrieved February 18, 2015. 
  3. a b [Mitchell, A., & Pepitone, J. (2014, December 1). U.S. Officials Are Investigating North Korea in Sony Movie Hack.]
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