By Avi Davis
It is easy enough for those who have no stake in the matter to target Sony’s weakness and servility in cancelling ***the release of the Seth Rogen/ James Franco vehicle, The Interview last week. But when you have major theater chains declaring that they won’t screen the film after receiving unambiguous threats targeting screening cinemas, who could really blame them? Although there is no credible evidence that the same hackers who mounted a successful cyber attack on the Sony computer network could replicate that same kind of assault as a physical act on a cinema, it is clear that the liability of both the distributors and the screening facilities themselves would be enormous if such an attack eventuated.
Yet, there was a more important issue at stake in this matter. By every measure, the Guardians of Peace cyberattack was a phenomenal success. It demonstrated the very real vulnerabilities and exposure of global corporations to cyberattack. The apparent ease with which the attackers were able to sift through and make off with hundreds of thousands of documents, the exposure of which have proved deeply embarrassing to the multimedia conglomerate, has given corporations all over America cause for deep concern on not only how it guards its information but how, in fact, they do business. The attack proved that with very little effort, a rogue cyber terrorist operation can bring a company to its knees, forcing it to pay a ransom for its stolen documents and embarrassing it before the world. If the cyber terrorists can do this to such a large corporation as Sony, what might they also be capable of doing to our electrical grid, our water supply and even our homeland defense systems?
That is the political fallout and should send both the U.S. government and U.S. corporations scrambling for cyber retrofits. But the other side of the fall out is the weakness it betrays about democracies capitulating, without a shot fired in retaliation, to this brazen act of piracy. How is it possible that the most powerful country on earth is seen surrendering to a rogue regime, that is incapable of feeding its own people and given to one of the cruelest and most despotic polities on earth? Because, as everyone now realizes, the attack was not really against Sony which sort to lampoon the North Korean leader, but against the U.S. and other democratic nations – a warning to anyone considering allowing its movie makers, satirists and assorted media to indulge in comedy at the expense of the dictator.
But in response Sony made the wrong decision. Instead of withdrawing the movie from distribution, it should have consulted with the White House, with Congress and the news media to discover a means of giving the film wide availability to as broad a cross section of viewers across the Internet as possible. Perhaps it would have been difficult to monetize this form of distribution but the movie was already going back into the vault and was being written off as a loss. The Wall Street Journal proposed last week that perhaps the U.S. government could purchase the rights to the film and seek to distribute it free in the United States and Asia. A good idea, but the United States government is not in the business of distributing Hollywood movies. Better, it would seem, for the U.S. to coordinate among the many strands of business required to produce, distribute and screen a movie to allow The Interview to see the light of day and provide a stoic, united response to this act of aggression from the North Koreans.
And one further matter. The true damage wrought by this attack was in the release of sensitive data including emails, memos and details of salaries and other personal matters which became available to the public on the Internet in a huge trove. Nothing can be done about individuals mining this date for juicy bits of gossip. But those media outlets which took advantage of this availability became instantly complicit in the North Korean crime and we should not hesitate to excoriate and boycott them for their flagrant opportunism and disregard for national security. If the Sony episode has taught us has anything, it is that when things like this occur, we are all in it together. For if North Korea can hack Sony, they can can certainly hack all of us. And then perhaps no one is truly safe from their reach.
*** as this article goes to print, news has arrived that Sony does intend to make the movie available in a release on Christmas Day (today). The release is a welcome statement of resolve on the part of the movie studio, although much damage was already done by the former decision to cancel. Lets hope that, as bad as the movie might prove to be, Americans throng to see it, giving notice to a brutal dictator that they won’t be cowed by his cyber terrorist operatives.