The hacking of Sony Pictures Entertainment has exposed salaries, sensitive personal e-mails, Social Security numbers and health records of employees. Who’s the lead suspect in the attack and how does it affect business in Hollywood? Hari Sreenivasan gets background from James Lewis of the Center for Strategic & International Studies and Sharon Waxman of The Wrap.
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It’s been just about two weeks since word broke of cyber-criminals hacking into Sony Pictures. And each day seems to bring more damaging, embarrassing or worrisome revelations.
The hackers have released a steady flow of information, ranging from salaries, to personal e-mails, Social Security numbers, and health records of employees, to internal messages showcasing industry hardball.
The past couple of days have been even worse for the company, if you can believe that.
And again to Hari, who is in our New York studios tonight.
The latest e-mails put new pressure on Amy Pascal, the co-chair of Sony Entertainment and one of the most powerful executives in Hollywood. It’s focused on confidential e-mails between Pascal and Scott Rudin, a powerful producer.
Before a fund-raiser for President Obama, they exchanged messages in which they try to guess the president’s favorite movies, all with African-Americans. Pascal writes:
“Should I ask him if he liked ‘Django’?” referring to “Django Unchained.”
Rudin writes back, “12 Years,” for “12 Years a Slave.”
“Or ‘The Butler? Or ‘Think Like a Man?'”
Both apologized yesterday. It’s not yet clear who’s behind the hacking. But they call themselves the Guardians of Peace.
We turn to two watching this closely, Sharon Waxman, editor in chief of The Wrap, an industry news site, and James Lewis, a cyber-security expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Sharon, I want to start with you.
You’re one of the few people to get in touch with Ms. Pascal yesterday. How significant is this hack? Put this in perspective. Is this what folks in Tinseltown are all talking about right now?
SHARON WAXMAN, TheWrap.Com:
It’s the only thing people are talking about.
And it’s by far the most significant thing to happen in the business this year, for sure, and probably will weigh on people’s minds for years to come, largely because the studio has been more or less paralyzed for weeks now. I don’t think that the studio is back to normal. From what we hear, they’re doing billing by hand.
Yesterday, we broke a story that the hackers once again penetrated their network and flashed a message on their computer screens, threatening to do more damage if their demands were not met. That being said, their demands are not at all clear.
But I think every single studio in town is checking their own security and everyone is worried about their e-mails, because, of course, anyone who’s had contact with Sony’s e-mail system, which is everyone, is worried that they might be impacted as well.
James Lewis, this isn’t your normal kind of hack, in the sense that if somebody was able to get something as sensitive as Social Security numbers, you see that being sold on the darker portions of the Internet. Tell us how this is different.
JAMES LEWIS, Center for Strategic and International Studies:
Well, it’s different in a couple of ways.
The first is that there doesn’t appear to be a commercial motive. It’s some kind of a political motive, maybe a personal motive. The second is that it’s been going on for a long time. Most crimes are smash-and-grabs. You get in, you get the data, you sell it.
And, finally, this is a little more sophisticated than some of the things we have seen. It tracks very closely with what North Korea has done in the past, but it’s in no way conclusive. And the North Koreans have never before gone after an American target. So, in many ways, this is a bigger deal than what we have seen previously.
Sharon, help me understand. Does this change how actors and agencies and studios do business, in the sense that, if I read through some of this, I know what actors make, what sorts of perks are included in the deals that are going on behind closed doors.
And also you get a sense that, you know, there is this disturbing data that confirmed the gender disparity that exists at the top of Hollywood.
Well, the gender disparity, which, by the way, is also an ethnic disparity, is not news to anybody who is involved in the entertainment industry. It’s heavily white and it’s heavily male.
And Amy Pascal is one of the handful of extremely powerful women executives in town. But if you’re referring to the fact that the top million-dollar-plus salaries were released and pretty much she was the only one on the list who is a woman, yes, I think it underlines that.
But it’s way more disturbing in terms of doing business to, yes, what you’re referring to, having conclusive information about what perks every star who is working at Sony gets, what stars are actually making, within the, you know, private negotiations that go on for various projects. People have — actors, they have fees and they have agents.
But, of course, what is said, what is actually concluded is that there’s always that murky space. That’s all been ripped away with the revelation of these e-mails and it’s just one thing after another that is, you know, embarrassing and that is going to make it difficult, I think, for Sony to be regarded as a place where you can do your business and that it remains private.
You know, I think that is one part of the damage to the studio. And I think that the damage to Amy Pascal personally, because it seems like a very personal attack on her, is devastating.
Jim, what do we know about the identities of the hackers? What sort of clues are the investigators working with?
Well, they’re working with the code, which includes some Korean language that points toward North Korea. They’re looking at the malware, which is similar to what North Korea has used in the past against South Korean targets, although it’s been used by the Iranians and others in their cyber-incidents.
We’re looking at the motivations in the statements. The North Koreans denied it. That doesn’t mean anything. Everybody always denies covert action. What’s interesting is that they also turned around and then said, it wasn’t us, but, by the way, we’re really glad to see this happen.
It’s interesting to note that, this summer, the North Koreans sent a letter to the secretary of the general of the U.N. protesting the film, asking that it be banned, and using language that was very similar to what we have seen in the hack.
So in no way is this conclusive, but they’re the lead suspect.
All right, Sharon, does this also fuel this tension between artists and the studios, in the sense that when you read some of these e-mails, regardless the race of the artists, they seem to be expressing on Twitter and other places that, you know what, we’re the help, we make all this money for the studios, but this is really what they think of us behind closed doors.
It’s really funny you would say that because I have had a couple of calls this year, completely unrelated to this, from people who are directors and who represent actors, saying exactly that, that there’s so much of like a serf-landlord feeling in the culture of Hollywood today and actually asking me to find out, if I could, who’s making a million dollars or more at the studios, as they grind down constantly the salaries of the actors, who are the names that they open these movies with.
But you have situations — and I don’t know if you have seen — it’s up on Twitter — Angelina Jolie, who is part of — who was mentioned in these e-mails between Amy Pascal and Scott Rudin, a very powerful producer. He was insulting to her in the e-mails. And she is obviously a director now. She has a movie coming out shortly, “Unbroken.”
And they’re talking about her in relation to interrupting some negotiations over a movie they’re trying to make about Steve Jobs, and he refers to her as a spoiled brat.
So, just so happens she was at a breakfast with Amy Pascal. And there is a pretty icy photo of the two of them greeting each other. So if you’re asking how it affects talent relations — and Amy Pascal is known as somebody who has warm relations with talent. That’s one of the big, important things. This is a business of relationships, and that — I think that makes everything kind of fraught at the moment, for sure.
All right, Sharon Waxman from The Wrap, James Lewis from the Center for Strategic and International Studies, thanks you so much.