On Thursday, the American Justice Department announced plans to charge a North Korean spy with hacking into the computers and servers of Sony Pictures Entertainment in 2014. The hacking, which many believe occurred as retaliation for a film starring Seth Rogen and James Franco about a plot to assassinate the North Korean leader, reportedly wiped out some 70 percent of the studio’s data, crippling integral elements of the company and releasing private information to the public.
Pak Jin-Hyok, who U.S. officials believe was working under the auspices of North Korea’s Reconnaissance General Bureau (a loose equivalent to America’s CIA), has been identified as the hacker believed to be behind the attack. The Reconnaissance General Bureau is also suspected of being behind the WannaCry ransomware attacks from last year. While the effects of that attack weren’t’ substantial in the United States, it wreaked havoc in the UK health care systems.
Sony employees learned that their servers had been hacked in November 2014 when they were greeted by an image of Chief Executive (at the time) Michael Lynton’s severed head when logging onto their computers. Sony had to shut down all of its computer systems in the United States and overseas, crippling email, voicemail, and production systems and effectively leaving the studio, and it’s 7,000 worldwide employees, dead in the water. Early reports didn’t seem to indicate the attack had anything to do with the Rogen & Franco comedy film entitled, “The Interview,” but the FBI’s investigation soon seemed to confirm that the attack came from North Korea. However, because elements of the investigation have remained classified until recently, the Justice Department was unable to include any of the new evidence in a formal indictment.
Aside from hindering production, vast amounts of private Sony data soon found its way onto the internet, including private emails between high profile studio officials and actors. Racist and sexist remarks included in these emails served to damage Sony’s credibility among industry insiders as well as the general public. By December, statements apparently issued by “the hackers” had tied to attack to Sony’s release of “The Interview,” though they still stopped short of claiming victory for North Korea.
The film itself saw a muddled release. Sony first yielded to the threats of the hackers but then made a U-turn and followed the growing sentiment that yielding to threats was wrong. Even President Obama, who had been the butt of racially insensitive jokes sent via email by top Sony executive Amy Pascal, criticised the film’s shelving. Once it was finally released, the film was shown in only 581 theaters nationwide along with streaming on demand, and netted a paltry $6 million domestically and close to $5 million from foreign markets. Sony, though, has since recouped most of it’s $44 million investment in digital rentals since, making it simultaneously Sony’s most successful digital release to date, and also a flop when taking marketing costs into consideration.
North Korean officials have denied any involvement in the hacking case.