I know James Franco can be a little tiresome, but even I wouldn’t have called the multi-hyphenate actor-director-artist-attention monger-hyphen collector a threat to national security…until now. Now I’m going to do just that. James Franco is a threat to national security and so, apparently, is Seth Rogen! Sony Pictures is speculating that The Interview, a geopolitical comedy starring Franco and Rogen, may have provoked a North Korean cyber attack against the company’s digital assets. Those assets include a number of unreleased films which have been leaked onto the web in the wake of the attack, leading to substantial piracy losses for the studio.
It’s a story that doubles as possibly the most over-the-top viral marketing campaign of all time. The Interview is a comedy depicting a haphazard CIA plot to assassinate North Korean dictator and human Grumpy Cat impersonator Kim Jong-Un. The North Korean government responded with threats of “merciless retaliation” against the United States and its allies if the film was released, but since the North Korean government threatens merciless retaliation about once a week no one really paid much attention. In retrospect that may have been unwise. According to Recode outside investigators employed by Sony are pointing blame for the attack at a group of China based hackers employed by North Korea.
All joking aside, the attack will hit Sony Pictures right where it hurts, in the wallet. Among the films released were the Brad Pitt-starring war flick Fury which is still in theaters, and the highly anticipated remake of Annie starring Quvenzhané Wallis which has yet to hit theaters. Both films have already been heavily pirated, along with a more modest number of downloads for smaller Sony films like Still Alice, To Write Love On Her Arms, and Mr. Turner. All told, the leak could cost Sony millions in ticket sales and digital downloads, a pointed reminder of the dangers of cyber security vulnerability. The attack, which took place on November 24th, also significantly hampered productivity at Sony’s offices where workers were locked out of their computers and forced to work in pen and paper without access to their digital files. A similar attack on a more vital institution, like or banking or healthcare systems could be devastating rather than just costly.
In the wake of the attack and the leak of Sony’s digital property, two important questions remain: First, why didn’t North Korea use its cyber-might to stop the release of the genuinely terrible 2012 Red Dawn remake, a film that also cast North Korea as a villain? Such an act of heroism would probably have earned the rogue state a seat on the U.N. Security Council. Second, does Kim Jong-Un think that Cameron Diaz is pulling off the Miss Hannigan role in the new Annie? Because frankly I am just not buying it.