Sony Hackers Threaten Movie Theaters

But Dept. of Homeland Security Sees No 'Credible' Plot
Sony Hackers Threaten Movie Theaters

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security says it has no evidence to suggest that a "terror" threat made by hackers against movie theaters and theatergoers - in relation to the release of the forthcoming Sony Pictures Entertainment comedy "The Interview" - is credible.

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While DHS confirms that it's aware of the threat, the agency says in a statement that "at this time there is no credible intelligence to indicate an active plot against movie theaters within the United States."

The response from DHS follows the release of a message from a group that calls itself the Guardians of Peace. "Remember the 11th of September 2001," the group warns. "We will clearly show it to you at the very time and places 'The Interview' be shown, including the premiere, how bitter fate those who seek fun in terror should be doomed to. ... We recommend you to keep yourself distant from the places at that time. (If your house is nearby, you'd better leave.)"

The warning was contained in a message posted Dec. 16 to the FriendPaste and Pastebin text-sharing websites, by "G.O.P.," following the group's damaging Nov. 24 wiper malware attack against Sony Pictures Entertainment, as well as its ongoing anti-Sony public relations campaign, which to date has seen the group reportedly release tens of gigabytes of stolen Sony data.

In response to G.O.P.'s threat, Sony Pictures has told theaters that it will allow them to decide whether they want to show the film. On Dec. 16, Carmike Cinemas - the fourth-largest U.S. exhibitor, by number of screens - said it won't show the film, The Wall Street Journal reports.

The Interview, which is due to have its U.S. release on Christmas Day, stars James Franco and Seth Rogan - who also co-directed - as a tabloid TV reporting team who land an interview with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un in Pyongyang, but who get approached by the CIA to instead assassinate him.

In response to G.O.P.'s threat against theaters and movie-goers, some Hollywood luminaries have responded by publicly pledging to see the film.

G.O.P.'s "1st Christmas Gift"

Earlier this week, a G.O.P. message said that although the group had already released numerous batches of Sony information, it was building toward a bigger "Christmas present" for the movie and television studio (see Sony Breach Response: Legal Threats).

The group says it's now begun to deliver on that promise. Its Dec. 16 message includes links to torrent files and file-sharing sites that contained what the group describes as its "1st Christmas gift," which is the Outlook mailbox for Sony Pictures Entertainment Chairman and CEO Michael Lynton. According to various press reports, 32,000 e-mails to and from Lynton have been released, dating from 2013 through to Nov. 21, 2014, which was just three days before Sony Pictures suffered the wiper malware attack that reportedly led the company to issue new laptops to numerous employees.

Despite G.O.P. claiming that its Sony attacks were sparked by "The Interview," and the government of North Korea having previously denounced the film as a "terrorist act," multiple information security experts have questioned whether G.O.P really has any connection to - or affiliation with - the government of North Korea. The group's earliest demand, for example, which was sent to Sony executives prior to the wiper malware attack, appeared to be a criminal attempt to extort Sony. The extortion demand made no reference to the film.

Sony, however, was previously aware that the film might upset Pyongyang, and CEO Lynton told Assistant U.S. Secretary of State Daniel Russel that the studio was "concerned for the safety of Americans and American and North Korean relations," Reuters reports, citing an "internal e-mail" dated June 26, 2014.

"I explained that we wanted to act in a responsible fashion and that the film was designed to entertain and not to make a political statement," Lynton's e-mail, which was sent to Sony general counsel Nicole Seligman, reportedly reads. "[Russel] said that the North Koreans were going to do whatever they were going to do with or without the film, though they may use it as an excuse [and] it would probably go on the list of complaints they have against the United States."

Leaked E-mails Embarrass Sony Executives

While G.O.P. has previously released internal Sony e-mails, Lynton is the highest-ranking employee to so far have had his private communications leaked. His e-mails reportedly include his discussions with other Sony executives, as well as with the board of directors for Snapchat, on which he also sits.

G.O.P. previously released the Outlook e-mail spools for Sony's general counsel, Leah Weil; Sony Pictures Television president Steve Mosko; and Sony Pictures chair Amy Pascal. Some of those e-mails have already proven highly embarrassing to Sony, for example by highlighting how, for the 2013 film American Hustle, Hollywood A-list actress Jennifer Lawrence was paid less than her male co-stars, according to news reports. Likewise, the leaks contained racially insensitive comments between Pascal and producer Scott Rudin, which concerned President Barack Obama. Both Pascal and Rudin have issued related apologies.

Earlier this week, meanwhile, two former employees filed a lawsuit against Sony, claiming that it had failed to protect their private information. The plaintiffs are seeking class action status.

About the Author

Mathew J. Schwartz

Mathew J. Schwartz

Executive Editor, DataBreachToday & Europe, ISMG

Schwartz is an award-winning journalist with two decades of experience in magazines, newspapers and electronic media. He has covered the information security and privacy sector throughout his career. Before joining Information Security Media Group in 2014, where he now serves as the executive editor, DataBreachToday and for European news coverage, Schwartz was the information security beat reporter for InformationWeek and a frequent contributor to DarkReading, among other publications. He lives in Scotland.

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