NEW YORK, N.Y. - A U.S. official says North Korea perpetrated the unprecedented act of cyberwarfare against Sony Pictures that exposed tens of thousands of sensitive documents and escalated to threats of terrorist attacks that ultimately drove the studio to cancel all release plans for the film at the heart of the attack, "The Interview."
Federal investigators have now connected the Sony Pictures hack to the isolated communist nation, according to an official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to openly discuss an ongoing criminal case. Earlier in the day, the besieged company cancelled the Christmas Day release of "The Interview," citing the threats of violence against movie theatres and decisions by the largest multiplex chains in North America to pull the film from its screens. It later said there are no further plans to release the film.
The attack is possibly the costliest for a U.S. company ever, said Avivah Litan, a cybersecurity analyst at research firm Gartner. "This attack went to the heart and core of Sony's business — and succeeded," she said. "We haven't seen any attack like this in the annals of U.S. breach history."
The movie cancellation was a startling blow to the Hollywood studio. The hackers, who call themselves Guardians of Peace, on Monday had threatened attacks reminiscent of September 11th, 2001 against movie theatres showing the film. Sony then offered theatres the option of bowing out, and one after the other, all the top U.S. movie chains announced they were postponing any showings of the comedy about a pair of journalists played by James Franco and Seth Rogen tasked by the CIA to assassinate North Korea leader Kim Jung-un. Sony said it then had little choice but to cancel the release.
"We are deeply saddened at this brazen effort to suppress the distribution of a movie, and in the process do damage to our company, our employees, and the American public," Sony Pictures said in a statement Tuesday. "We stand by our filmmakers and their right to free expression and are extremely disappointed by this outcome."
Just how much the hack and the decision to pull the movie will cost Sony is unclear. And beyond the financial blow, some say the attack and Sony's response has raised troubling questions about self-censorship and whether others studios and U.S. companies are now open season for cyberterrorists.
"Artistic freedom is at risk," said Efraim Levy, a financial analyst who covers parent company Sony Corp. for research firm S&P Capital IQ. "Are we not going to put out movies that offend some constituencies?"