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(Pocket-lint) - Sony Pictures Entertainment was the victim of devastating cyber attack in late November and early December that involved the release of stolen data including multiple yet-to-be-released films and personal employee information like social security numbers and salaries.

If that's not crazy enough, malware might also destroyed sensitive data on Sony's systems. And now it's been confirmed by US officials that North Korea orchestrated the hack, simply because Kim Jong-un didn't like Seth Rogen's upcoming film The Interview.

Want to know why North Korea is starting a cyberwar and what else might have been leaked? All the details are below.

When did it happen?

Sony Pictures Entertainment employees arrived at work on 24 November, then sat at their desks like normal, and turned on their computers. It was a typical Monday morning, until their computer screens flashed a rather creepy image of red skull with a warning.

"We've already warned you, and this is just a beginning. We will continue until our request be met, " the image claimed. "We've obtained all your internal data including your secrets and top secrets. If you don't obey us, we'll release data shown below to the world."

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If that wasn't ominous enough, Sony's Twitter account was also hacked. The account had posted a second image depicting the CEO of Sony Pictures (Michael Lynton) in hell, and many viewed this as proof that the cyber attack was (and is) real.

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Who is responsible for the hack?

The hack is being described as a blackmail attempt and has been linked to a group calling itself Guardians of Peace (GOP), Bloomberg reported, citing an anonymous source. One interview with someone purportedly from GOP said they had been stealing data from Sony for a year.

Sony Pictures employees first became aware of the hack on that Monday, though it is unclear when the hack actually began. News of the hack only made headlines when someone claiming to be a former Sony employee posted a discussion note on Reddit, along with an image of the skull.

The former employee added in a comment that current employees told him their email systems were down, and that in an attempt to prevent more damage, Sony administrators were shutting down its worldwide network and disabling VPN connections and Wi-Fi access.

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Is North Korea involved at all?

UPDATE: CNN has reported - citing US investigators and law enforcement sources - that "hackers working for North Korea" and the Pyongang regime were behind the Sony hack. An official announcement from President Obama was expected by 18 December.

The Interview

Before we go over North Korea's involvement, let's discuss The Interview. It's an upcoming film starring James Franco and Seth Rogen as journalists working with the CIA to assassinate Kim Jong-un, the supreme leader of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

North Korean officials are reportedly upset with the film's plot, and a government official told North Korean state media last summer that the film is a "blatant act of terrorism and war" and would lead to "merciless" retaliation from the country if ever released.

In a letter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon last June, North Korea's UN envoy said allowing the film to be made/seen constitutes "the most undisguised sponsoring of terrorism as well as a war action". Shortly after, Sony Pictures delayed The Interview from its October premiere.


Needless to say, all eyes were on North Korea when Sony became aware of the hack. Both Reuters and NBC News reported that several US government agencies, including the FBI, are investigating the hack and North Korea's involvement.

Although North Korea has denied any involvement in the attack, and even issued strong statements declaring that it follows the "international norms" of banning hacking and piracy, according to Reuters, evidence has physically linked North Korea to the Sony hack.

Security companies like AlienVault are currently examining the malware code - which the FBI has released - used in the attack against Sony. Jaime Blasco, the director of AlienVault, found some of the code was written in Korean, indicating North Korea was involved.

Re/code has reported that Sony is investigating North Korea's involvement and whether the country staged the attack from China.

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What was leaked during the attack?


The hackers claim to have stolen about 100 terabytes of sensitive data from Sony, and they've already leaked five Sony films online for free through file-sharing websites. The films include Fury, a Brad Pitt war picture released in October, and Annie, which opens on 19 December.

Three other films, called Still Alice, Mr. Turner, and To Write Love on Her Arms, have yet to be widely released but were among the leaked films. It is assumed the devastating attack will negatively affect the films' box office take as well as Sony's bottom line.

It's also been reported that the script for an unreleased pilot by Vince Gilligan, the creator of Breaking Bad, was leaked. It's worth noting that The Interview has yet to be included in any of the leaks, which are currently releasing online in batches.

An early version of the script for Spectre, the next James Bond film, has also surfaced. MGM and Danjaq own the rights to the script however, marking the first time a studio apart from Sony has been affected by the hack.

UPDATE: Emails between The Interview's creators (Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg) and Sony executives leaked online, revealing that Sony demanded the creators reduce the gore depicted in the film. More specifically, the gore in Kim Jong-un's death scene, Gawker reported.


Apart from the films, internal documents containing Sony Pictures employees' personal information were leaked. The documents included the names, titles, salaries, and social security numbers of more than 6,000 Sony Pictures employees, including top executives.

Seventeen executives make over $1 million per year, the documents revealed. Amy Pascal, the co-chair of Sony Pictures, makes $3 million a year, as does the CEO. And according to Bloomberg, the documents even revealed how much Seth Rogen and James Franco made for The Interview.

Seth Rogen, who co-wrote and co-directed and stars in the film, made more than $8.4 million, while James Franco received $6.5 million for co-starring. The film's prop budget list was also among the leaked documents, Reuters reported, and it included a "table of weed, coke, pills and panties" for $241.

Celebrity aliases

A slew of aliases used by celebrities when attempting to avoid paparazzi was also among the leaked Sony documents, it's claimed. Fusion has published a complete list of aliases. Examples include Rob Schneider (Nazzo Good) and Jessica Alba (Cash Money).

Fusion also reported that contact information for several celebrities - like Tom Hanks, Brad Pitt, and Julia Roberts - was also leaked.

Steve Jobs drama

The latest leak to come from the Sony hack is an email exchange that reveals a behind-the-scenes fight over the studio's Steve Jobs biopic. Gawker published several images of the emails, which were between Amy Pascal and producer Scott Rudin.

The emails start on 27 February. One message sent from Scott Rudin focuses on director David Fincher, who was set to direct the Jobs biopic. Scott Rudin also insulted actress Angelina Jolie, who is set to star in Sony's Cleopatra film, in the message.

Amy Pascal and Scott Rudin were embroiled in bitter disagreement over Angeline Jolie's apparent interest in having David Fincher direct Cleopatra, instead of Jobs. Scott Rudin didn't want David Fincher to direct Cleopatra. He also made it clear that he didn't like Angelina Jolie.

"I'm not destroying my career over a minimally talented spoiled brat who thought nothing of shoving this off her plate for eighteen months so she could go direct a movie," Scott Rudin wrote, according to Gawker.

"I have no desire to be making a movie with her, or anybody, that she runs and that we don't," he added of Angelina Jolie. "She's a camp event and a celebrity and that's all and the last thing anybody needs is to make a giant bomb with her".

The Steve Jobs biopic, written by screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, ended up at Universal in November after Sony couldn't agree on financing terms.

Aaron Sorkin published an Op-Ed column in the New York Times on 15 December, in which he claimed journalists were helping the GOP in disseminating information: "As demented and criminal as it is, at least the hackers are doing it for a cause. The press is doing it for a nickel", he wrote.

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Obama racism

Amy Pascal and Scott Rudin, in another email exchange, also joked about President Barack Obama's race when trying to guess his favourite movies, according to Buzzfeed, which published several additional leaked emails from Sony.

Amy Pascal, co-chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment, emailed Scott Rudin, who produced movies such as The Social Network and No Country for Old Men, to ask what she should say to Obama at a fundraiser breakfast.

"Would he like to finance some movies," responded Scott Rudin.

"I doubt it. Should I ask him if he liked DJANGO?" asked Amy Pascal in the racially-insensitive email, while referring to a film largely about African-American slavery.

Scott Rudin replied: "12 YEARS."

"Or the butler. Or think like a man?" continued Amy Pascal.

"Ride-along. I bet he likes Kevin Hart," said Scott Rudin.

Scott Rudin and Amy Pascal issued apologies on 11 December for their racially insensitive remarks about President Obama. That same night, The Interview had a screening. Before the film began, Seth Rogen went on stage and thanked Amy Pascal "for having the balls to make this movie".

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Leaked emails uncovered from the Sony hack recently disclosed several of Snapchat's business plans, to which the company's CEO has responded with a heartfelt note about how the entire debacle personally made him feel.

According to Business Insider, leaked messages from Michael Michael Lynton, Sony Pictures CEO and Snapchat board member, revealed that Snapchat secretly acquired Vergence Labs for $15 million earlier this year. The company makes a Google Glass-like wearable. The leaked emails also revealed that Evan Spiegel, Snapchat's CEO, wanted to start a music label and use Snapchat to promote the label's artists.

Another exchange between Michael Lynton and journalist Malcolm Gladwell further confirmed Snapchat rejected a buyout offer from Facebook. Reports claimed earlier this year that Facebook tried to buy Snapchat for $3 billion, but Snapchat rebuffed the offer because Spiegel thought his app was worth more. In reality, Michael Lynton told Gladwell - while presumably off the record - that Snapchat rejected an even larger bid.

In response to the Sony Pictures hack and the leaking of Snapchat's business plans, Spiegel sent a letter to Snapchat employees and then shared the same letter on Twitter. He referred to the leaked plans as secrets and claimed Snapchat keeps secrets because it lets team members do their work "free from judgment" - and it gives them space to change their minds.

"I felt like I was going to cry all morning," Spiegel said, explaining how he felt after hearing about the leaks. But he also promised Snapchat would keep doing exactly what it is doing, only 10 times better: "We're going to change the world because this is not the one we want to live in".

Medical documents

According to Wired, the leaked documents not only included employee salaries and social security numbers but also HR employee performance reviews, criminal background checks, termination records, medical conditions, passport and visa information, and emails.

Gawker and Buzzfeed also claimed that stolen documents released by hackers included the medical records of dozens of Sony employees. A leaked Human Resources spreadsheet, for instance, included the birth dates, health conditions, and medical costs for 34 Sony employees.

None of the news outlets have published the employees' names, so far.

Christmas gift

The hackers released more Sony files on 13 December and promised a "Christmas gift" that would put Sony Pictures "into the worst state".

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The Interview's limited theatrical release

Sony pulls plug

The GOP threatened on 16 December to attack screenings of The Interview. Since the threats were made public, all major US theater chains declined to show the film. Sony therefore canceled The Interview's theatrical release and confirmed there were no plans to release it at all.

"We have decided not to move forward with the planned December 25 theatrical release," Sony announced in a statement. "We respect and understand our partners' decision and, of course, completely share their paramount interest in the safety of employees and theater-goers."

The Interview stars - Seth Rogen and James Franco - also canceled all upcoming media appearances, which includes appearances on Late Night with Seth Meyers and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. Apart from an SNL skit and Howard Stern interview, the actors have stayed low.

Shortly after Sony's announcement, US investigators and law enforcement sources announced "hackers working for North Korea" and the Pyongyang regime were behind the Sony hack. President Obama was expected to make a statement by 18 December.

Celebrities and politicians immediately took to Twitter to voice their opinion. Many felt Sony had given into the hackers' demands and that Sony was setting a dangerous precedent in which foreign countries could determine the types of films being developed and released in Hollywood.

More demands

The hackers who attacked Sony Pictures made more demands on 18 December. CNN reported that top Sony executives received an email from the hacking group, with a message claiming it would withhold the remaining stolen data if the studio simply wipe the The Interview from existence.

"It's very wise that you have made the decision to cancel the release of The Interview. It will be very useful for you," CNN, which obtained a copy of the email, reported. "We will ensure the security of your data unless you make additional trouble."

The hackers continued: "Now we want you never let the movie released, distributed or leaked in any form of, for instance, DVD or piracy... We want everything related to the movie, including its trailers, as well as its full version down from any website hosting them immediately."

US officially confirmed on 19 December that North Korea is behind the hack. The White House press secretary said the US plans to take action and that the action will be "proportional" to the crime. The press secretary noted the attackers may be looking for a specific response.

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President Obama's reaction

Speaking on live television on 19 December, President Obama said the US will respond to North Korea over its cyber attack on Sony Pictures, though he declined to be specific. Obama said his staff is weighing all the options and he will choose what he feels is appropriate.

"I think it says something interesting about North Korea that they decided to have the state mount an all-out assault on a movie studio because of a satirical movie starring Seth Rogen," Obama said during the live announcement. "That gives you an impression of what kind of regime that is."

The President, who was critical of Sony's decision to cancel The Interview's premiere and even described that decision as a mistake, continued: "We cannot have a society in which some dictator some place can start imposing censorship here in the United States."

Sony defends itself

Mostly everyone, excluding Kim Jong-un, wants Sony to release The Interview. After President Obama criticised the studio on live television, public pressure grew more intense, causing Sony to publish the following statement:

"The decision not to move forward with the December 25 theatrical release of The Interview was made as a result of the majority of the nation’s theater owners choosing not to screen the film. This was their decision."

The studio continued: "After that decision, we immediately began actively surveying alternatives to enable us to release the movie on a different platform. It is still our hope that anyone who wants to see this movie will get the opportunity to do so."

Sony backpedals

The Interview will premiere on Christmas Day, Sony announced on 23 December after a week of drama and controversy.

"We have never given up on releasing The Interview, and we're excited our movie will be in a number of theaters on Christmas Day," Michael Michael Lynton, CEO of Sony Entertainment, said in a statement. "At the same time, we are continuing our efforts to secure more platforms and more theaters so that this movie reaches the largest possible audience."

The New York Times reported that Sony wants the film to show in at least 200 to 300 theaters.

2015 - The Aftermath

Amy Pascal

In response to the hack, Pascal confirmed to The Hollywood Reporter on 5 February that she will step down from her job as co-chairman at Sony Pictures Entertainment in March. Pascal will launch a major new production venture at the studio in May, which includes being a producer on the new Ghostbusters film and future Amazing Spider Man films.

Ever since Sony's massive breach made headlines in November 2014, Pascal has been in the spotlight. Among the leaked documents there were racially insensitive emails between Pascal and producer Scott Rudin, for instance, in which the two joked that President Obama's favorite films are black-themed movies like Django Unchained.

While controversy brewed over her email exchange, Pascal and Sony Pictures chose to pull The Interview from its theatrical release on Christmas Day. That was also met with backlash, as the public believed they were giving in to terrorist demands, and even President Obama said the decision to stop the film’s release was a mistake.

The Interview

Sony eventually backpedaled on releasing The Interview. A group of indie theaters said they would show it on Christmas Day. The studio decided to release it digitally as well on platforms including YouTube, Google Play, Microsoft’s Xbox Video, and Sony’s own dedicated website. The film eventually went to Netflix as well.

As of January 18, The Interview - which has been at the forefront of Sony's hacking scandal since the very beginning, largely due to North Korea objecting to what the film is about and/or depicts - had grossed more $40 million in cable, satellite, telecom, and online VOD sales, and $6 million through its limited theatrical release.

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What was that mass-email threat about?

Apart from the original cyber attack, Sony Pictures employees also received a mass-email threat. It supposedly came from the same hackers who infiltrated the company's systems last week, Variety has reported. Sony immediately told law enforcement about the threat.

The email, which was written allegedly by the GOP in broken English, includes talk about the hackers' grand plan. This plan involves the collapse of Sony Pictures and removing the company from Earth. The GOP also threatened in the email to put employees' families in danger.

The GOP specifically wrote the following threat, among other things: "Please sign your name to object the false of the company at the email address below if you don't want to suffer damage. If you don't, not only you but your family will be in danger."

Employees who received the mass-email threat were told to turn off their handheld devices.

Did Sony know about the hack before-hand?

The GOP warned executives at Sony roughly three days before it attacked the company, according to by Mashable, which discovered email evidence throughout the leaked material. In fact, the GOP reportedly sent the following email warning to Michael Lynton and Amy Pascal:

"We've got great damage by Sony Pictures. The compensation for it, monetary compensation we want. Pay the damage, or Sony Pictures will be bombarded as a whole. You know us very well. We never wait long. You'd better behave wisely. From God'sApstls."

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Anything else worth knowing?

Everything is still fresh and unfolding, so questions remain including how badly Sony Pictures will be hurt by the attack. While most reports have focused on the leaked data, an FBI flash alert has suggested the attack could've also included malware that destroyed data on Sony's systems.

Writing by Elyse Betters. Originally published on 4 December 2014.