The Interview gets cancelled as US blames North Korea for cyberattack on Sony

18 Dec 2014

James Franco and Seth Rogen in the spoof comedy The Interview, which has infuriated North Korea and led to the cyberattack against Sony Pictures

In a plot worthy of a B movie, The Interview has been withdrawn from cinemas in the US just as US government officials named North Korea as the source of the cyberattack against Sony.

Unnamed officials in a number of reports have laid blame for the attack on Unit 21 of North Korea’s General Bureau of Reconnaissance.

The attack has been described as “state sponsored” and rather than being a sophisticated exploit researchers at Cisco’s Talos Seucurity Intelligence and Research Group said that the “Destroyer” malware attack was full of bugs.

Yesterday Sony Pictures cancelled the 25 December theatrical release of The Interview – a spoof comedy starring Seth Rogen and James Franco portraying visit to the dysfunctional Hermit Kingdom – because of threats that were made to cinemas that were scheduled to show the movie.

The whole saga kicked off over a fortnight ago when Sony Pictures’ IT systems were shut down following a cyber-attack by a group calling itself Guardians of Peace.

The seriousness of the attack grew as five movies scheduled for release – including Fury and Annie – were distributed online to pirate sites, more than 47,000 records of employees were published online and emails by senior Sony and Hollywood executives were also published online.

The hackers win … for now

This is an unprecedented situation where a movie has had to be cancelled because of safety fears caused by hacker threats to cinemas and moviegoers.

In a statement Sony Pictured Entertainment said: “In light of the decision by the majority of our exhibitors not to show the film The Interview,we have decided not to move forward with the planned December 25 theatrical release. We respect and understand our partners’ decision and, of course, completely share their paramount interest in the safety of employees and theater-goers.

“Sony Pictures has been the victim of an unprecedented criminal assault against our employees, our customers, and our business. Those who attacked us stole our intellectual property, private emails, and sensitive and proprietary material, and sought to destroy our spirit and our morale — all apparently to thwart the release of a movie they did not like. We are deeply saddened at this brazen effort to suppress the distribution of a movie, and in the process do damage to our company, our employees, and the American public. We stand by our filmmakers and their right to free expression and are extremely disappointed by this outcome.”

Last week North Korea denied it had any involvement in the attack but hailed it as a “righteous deed.”

While US government officials have been cited by various media organisations, including the New York Times, as confirming North Korea is the culprit, a formal White House statement has yet to be made on the matter.

A key matter for concern for the Obama administration is how much evidence it is prepared to make to the public without revealing how the US itself was able to penetrate North Korean networks to trace the source of the cyber-attack.

In a strange twist North Korea and its hacker army may have elevated The Interview from what could have been at best a moderate box office success into a movie with potential cult status and a collector’s item. You couldn’t buy that kind of publicity.

Now millions of people who would have happily given The Interview a miss are curious to see what all the fuss was about.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years