Sony, the Media, and Cyber Threats

If you haven’t heard about the Sony breach yet, you’re probably living under a rock. Therefore, I’ll spare you the nitty gritty details that have been rehashed (over and over) to get to the meat of it: why wild media speculation is a terrible thing, and why the Sony hack may be the most important thing to happen to cyber security in the US.

First, for the terrible: starting almost at the moment of the breach, the media descended like hawks on not only the company, but the information. The most problematic thing about this has been the journalistic lack of empathy when exposing exfiltrated data that may not have otherwise been found by the average user. Like the recent iCloud scandal, much of the attention has not been on the methods of the leak – it has been on the occurrence of a leak and the view we now have into the inner workings of an influential American media company.

Thankfully, there have been many journalists who are questioning the integrity of publishing leaked information. Yes, even they see the irony of “hopping on the bandwagon,” but still feel the need to call out opportunistic posting of confidential information on celebrities, the organization, and petty details of Sony’s inner workings.

Now, after all the crazy, Sony has decided to pull the movie entirely [edit: Sony has decided not to release the movie internationally, either]. This action was in response to theaters across the country deciding not to show the movie in response to threats of violence against Christmas Day moviegoers. Potentially a reaction to the Aurora, CO shooting, Americans have become more aware of the potential for real violence in response to media portrayals. Overall, the hack and withdrawal of the movie will probably cost the studio upwards of $200 million, a figure that at this point is only being tacked on to the greater costs of the breach (and the many other sides of it that I am sure we don’t even know about yet).

Regardless of the response, he entire hack still begs the question – The Interview? Really? Of all movies to spark enough outrage that innocent lives were threatened? Seth Rogen and James Franco were the guys behind “This is the End,” and “Pineapple Express,” neither one a movie known for its deep thinking and social commentary. It’s so bad that others are commenting that Seth Rogen should never have made the movie, a bold claim from an industry that has “killed off” an American president.

However, there is one good thing coming from this: people are taking cyber threats very, very seriously. In the words of the New York Times’ editorial board, a body not very used to speaking about cyber threats, “the international community needs to speed up work on norms on what constitutes a cyberattack and what the response should be.” Granted, they follow up this thought with a bit about the Internet becoming a free-for-all, but this marks a new stage in the public awareness of the threats facing businesses and governments in the cyber era. The threat of nation-states inflicting major damage on civilians as part of a cyber war is no longer the tinfoil hat theory – it’s being touted as the undeniable (even before US government officials said that North Korea was responsible).

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