Sony cancels release of "The Interview" due to hacker threats

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Sony on Wednesday evening announced that it decided to cancel the holiday release of "The Interview", an upcoming and controversial movie starring James Franco and Seth Rogan that centers on a plan to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

Sony of course recently fell prey to an absolutely massive hack that effectively saw all of their computer systems breached, with the hackers responsible releasing terabytes of data in the process. Over the last few weeks, embarrassing email correspondence between various Sony executives have been made public. One such exchange detailed  some behind the scenes in-fighting surrounding the upcoming Steve Jobs biopic which Sony eventually gave up the rights to.

More recently, the hackers behind the attack issued a gruesome warning to theaters planning to show "The Interview."

The threat reads in part:

The world will be full of fear. Remember the 11th of September 2001. We recommend you to keep yourself distant from the places at that time. (If your house is nearby, you’d better leave.) Whatever comes in the coming days is called by the greed of Sony Pictures Entertainment.

On top of that, the threat specifically mentions that anyone in attendance at the movie's NYC premiere would be in danger.

And soon thereafter, nation-wide theaters began opting not to show the movie. Following that, Sony decided to scrap the film's December 25th release altogether.

The decision to do has been met with widespread criticism, with many taking the position that Sony is simply cowering to "terrorist demands" with no concrete proof that the hackers responsible even possess the capability to follow through on their threats.

On that note, Peter Singer recently said:

It is mind boggling to me, particularly when you compare it to real things that have actually happened. Someone killed 12 people and shot another 70 people at the opening night of Batman: The Dark Knight. They kept that movie in the theaters. You issue an anonymous cyber threat that you did not have the capability to carry out? We pulled a movie from 18,000 theaters.

It is absurd from a few angles, and it's hard not to view this as Sony simply caving in to fear-mongering.

As for who's responsible, it's long been assumed that North Korea was behind the hack, perhaps with some assistance from someone on the inside at Sony or via another nation-state.

Late on Monday, the New York Times published a piece relaying that newly discovered evidence uncovered by the United States points back to North Korean involvement. Of course, the threats of violence and reference to 9/11 over the specific release of "The Interview" certainly casts heavy suspicion on North Korean to begin with.

But there is a long forensic trail involving the Sony hacking, several security researchers said. The attackers used readily available commercial tools to wipe data off Sony’s machines. They also borrowed tools and techniques that had been used in at least two previous attacks, one in Saudi Arabia two years ago — widely attributed to Iran — and another last year in South Korea aimed at banks and media companies.

The Sony attacks were routed from command-and-control centers across the world, including a convention center in Singapore and Thammasat University in Thailand, the researchers said. But one of those servers, in Bolivia, had been used in limited cyberattacks on South Korean targets two years ago. That suggests that the same group or individuals may have been behind the Sony attack.

It's easy to blame Sony here for cowering to terrorist demands, but the situation is admittedly a bit more nuanced. As frustrating as it is, we live in an extremely litigious society and all it would take is one crazy lunatic doing something drastic at a theatre to usher in a wave of lawsuits. From this vantage point, movie theatre chains like AMC have an understandably stronger interest in protecting their bottom line and their customers than they do with taking a stand against cyber bullies.

Meanwhile, a number of prominent Hollywood personalties have taken to Twitter and have absolutely blasted Sony's decision to pull the film. Here are a few examples.

And here's Judd Apatow chiming in.

And Steve Carell:

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