Sony hack updates: U.S. breached N. Korea networks before attack, report says
Jan 19, 2015 | 9:49 AM
The United States is imposing new economic sanctions on North Korea in response to a cyberattack on Sony Pictures Entertainment that was revealed Nov. 24. U.S. officials have blamed North Korea for the hack, which was said to be a reaction to “The Interview,” Sony’s comedy about a plot to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Here’s the latest on the story.
Finger-pointing by American officials at North Korea traces back to intelligence gathered by the National Security Agency during its own breach of the country’s networks starting in 2010, according to a New York Times report.
The Times reported Sunday that the American spy agency began placing malware in North Korean computer systems in 2010 to track the movements of North Korean hackers. The evidence pulled from software monitoring North Korea’s activities was essential in persuading President Obama and other top officials to place the blame on North Korea for the hack of Sony Pictures Entertainment, unnamed officials and experts told New York Times.
The report, which details U.S. penetration of North Korean systems, cites former United States and foreign officials, computer experts and a newly disclosed NSA document from Germany’s Der Spiegel.
North Korea on Sunday denounced new economic sanctions imposed by President Obama in response to a cyberattack on Sony Pictures Entertainment that U.S. officials have blamed on the government of leader Kim Jong Un.
The country’s official news agency quoted an unnamed Foreign Ministry spokesman as saying the new sanctions would only “harden its will and resolution to defend … the dignity of the nation.”
President Obama today ordered new economic sanctions against North Korea, aimed at increasing financial pressure on the rogue state’s leadership.
The Obama administration said the sanctions are in response to a “destructive and coercive” cyber attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment, which recently released “The Interview,” a comedy which depicts the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
The executive order builds on existing sanctions against North Korea by cutting off access to the U.S. financial sector for 10 individuals and three government entities identified as key operatives engaged in hostile behavior.
"The Interview" is coming to Dish Network's video-on-demand service on Friday, making it the latest and last of the major pay television services to carry the controversial Seth Rogen-James Franco comedy.
Dish announced the deal on Thursday. It will rent the film for $5.99.
As of Thursday, the film, which cost $44 million to make, had grossed $3.5 million in theaters and more than $15 million in online rentals.
Sony Pictures Entertainment announced Wednesday that it would continue its rollout of "The Interview" by adding new video-on-demand platforms, pay-per-view services and about 200 more theaters.
The studio said the new platforms would include iN DEMAND affiliates such as Bright House Networks, Comcast, Cox Communications and Time Warner Cable. It will also be available on VOD and pay-per-view services of Charter Communications, Cablevision, AT&T U-verse TV, Verizon's FiOS and DirecTV.
Audiences will also be able to view the film on the PlayStation Network starting on Thursday, the company said, and more than 580 independent theaters will screen the film.
“We have always sought the widest possible distribution for 'The Interview,' and want to thank our new partners for helping us make that happen,” Michael Lynton, chairman and chief executive of Sony Entertainment, said in a statement.
Respected voices in the online security and anti-hacking community say the evidence presented publicly by the FBI is not enough to draw firm conclusions. They argue that the connections between the Sony hack and the North Korean government amount to circumstantial evidence. Further, they say the level of the breach indicates an intimate knowledge of Sony's computer systems that could have come from someone on the inside. But some said the FBI may have more convincing evidence that it has chosen to keep secret.
Wal-Mart's video streaming service Vudu has begun offering “The Interview” for rent and purchase, joining Google Play, YouTube Movies, Microsoft's Xbox Video and, more recently, iTunes. The movie is still not available through Amazon.com’s streaming service or through cable or satellite TV companies’ on-demand services.
"The Interview" had one of the most successful online releases ever for a Hollywood movie — and could accelerate the film industry's transition to a future in which moviegoers choose whether they want to see the latest films at the multiplex or from their sofas.
"The old chestnut was that you needed a theatrical release to establish legitimacy," consultant and former Columbia Pictures executive Peter Sealey said. "That old chestnut is dead now. They [Sony] have stumbled into the future."
When “The Interview” was released online Dec. 24, it was made available through Google Play, YouTube Movies, Microsoft's Xbox Video and a standalone website for rent and purchase. Notably, that list did not include Apple’s iTunes or Amazon.com’s streaming service, nor did it include cable or satellite TV companies’ on-demand services.
The movie became available through iTunes on Sunday.
Moviegoers flocked to independent theaters this weekend to see “The Interview.” The film, which was released on Dec. 24 on online video-on-demand platforms and on Christmas Day in 331 theaters, has collected $2.8 million at the box office. Sales figures for the on-demand market were not available.
Sony Pictures' controversial comedy "The Interview" began its atypical release with about $1 million in ticket sales from 331 theaters on Christmas Day, the studio estimated.
Some theaters across the country hosted sold-out showings as many moviegoers trekked to the cinemas out of a sense of patriotism and support for free speech after the movie's rocky ride to its release date, while some went mostly for the comedy.
Some of the U.S. theaters playing “The Interview” were boisterous and sold out, while at others the scene was more subdued. Attendance probably was dampened by film’s online release the day before, which gave audiences the option of watching it in the comfort of their own homes.
Sony has not released any revenue figures from the first day of on-demand viewings, but the comedy was at the top of the film charts for YouTube and Google Play. With reviews decidedly mixed, analysts now estimate it could pull in $3 million to $4 million in its limited theatrical release over the holiday weekend.
Russia sides with North Korea, calling 'The Interview' scandalous
Russia offered sympathy to North Korea on Thursday, saying “The Interview” was so scandalous that Pyongyang’s anger and the hacking of Sony Pictures Entertainment were “quite understandable,” the Associated Press reported.
The AP also quoted the Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman as saying that the United States government failed to offer any proof to back its claims North Korea was involved in the hacking and that the U.S.' vow to respond was “counterproductive.”
"The Interview" finally began to roll out into 331 independent theaters nationwide just after midnight on Christmas.
One of the first West Coast showings, a sold-out 12:30 a.m. screening at the Cinefamily Theater on Fairfax Boulevard in Los Angeles, drew camera crews, carolers, fans dressed as Uncle Sam — and, in a surprise appearance — co-directors Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg.
"You are the best," Rogen told the crowd. "We thought this might not happen at all."
This is the first time a major studio film has embarked on what the industry calls a day-and-date release — that is, available for home viewing at the same time as it opens in theaters.
Sony, which often seemed to be reacting as much as plotting a strategy while the hacking crisis blew up, has created opportunity out of disaster. When the dust settles, l'affaire Interview may be remembered as much for being a watershed moment in on-demand viewing as it is for any White House press conference or embarrassing emails.
Publicly, of course, theater owners and Sony will claim "The Interview" is an outlier. And in some ways it is. But you can bet that in the days ahead, studio executives around town will be peeking into theaters and working digital sources to discover how the financials panned out and looking at their own slates to see which films might lend themselves to this sort of distribution. The hacking may have breached a security wall, but Sony has opened the floodgates.
“Game of Thrones” creator George R.R. Martin will show “The Interview” on Christmas.
The author owns an independent theater in Santa Fe, N.M. “We're opening just for this film, and will devote the whole day to it,” Martin wrote on his blog, adding that it will run for two weeks. “We may schedule some midnight shows if there's enough demand.”
Martin has been outspoken about the controversies surrounding the film. He lashed out last week at Sony and theater chains, whose refusal to initially show the film he called “a stunning display of corporate cowardice.”
For perspective on the Sony hack, The Times’ Patt Morrison has interviewed Douglas Thomas, a USC associate communications professor who wrote the book “Hacker Culture” and has testified in Congress about cybercrime and security.
One of the questions: How hard is it to make laws against virtual crime?
Thomas replied: “It's enormously difficult, in part because we're always building off laws that were intended for something else. You get laws which don't [work]. How do you talk about trespass — for example — in a virtual world? Trespass is predicated on the idea that your body is someplace it shouldn't be. But when you're on your computer in your mom's basement, that's no longer true.”
Wednesday’s online release of “The Interview” had some theater owners fuming, saying it would set a bad precedent and undermine traditional business models that have long given theaters exclusive access to major Hollywood movies.
Joe Masher, chief operating officer for Bow Tie Cinemas, said he had ruled out showing “The Interview” at the chain’s 55 theaters in New York and five other states.
“We don’t play VOD [video-on-demand] titles,” he said. “It has always been the nature of our business that we enjoy exclusive access to these films prior to their release in home video. We’re standing strong with our brethren in supporting that.”
“The Interview” is being released online on Christmas Eve, the day before its theatrical release, Sony has announced.
As of 10 a.m. Pacific time, “the film will be available to rent in HD on Google Play, YouTube Movies, Microsoft’s Xbox Video and the dedicated website www.seetheinterview.com at a price of $5.99. The film can also be purchased in HD for $14.99,” the studio said in a news release.
YouTube reportedly in talks to stream 'The Interview'
YouTube “has tentatively agreed” to distribute “The Interview” online, CNN reported Wednesday morning, citing unnamed sources. If the deal goes through, it said, the movie would be available for rental through the website on Christmas, the same day as the theatrical release.
Even as filmmakers and free-speech advocates hailed Sony’s decision to release “The Interview” on Christmas, the move put the studio in an awkward situation.
The film's limited release drives a further wedge between the studio and the nation's largest theater owners, who blame Sony for yanking away a potential hit. It was supposed to open on 3,000 screens before theater chains and Sony shelved the movie.
Theater owners are also upset that Sony is negotiating to release the movie simultaneously on a video-on-demand platform. Distribution of a new movie outside theaters has been fought aggressively by the country's theater chains and avoided by all but the most niche film distributors.