Hollywood and Cyber Security

Chika Wonah originally published this blog on his website, ChikaWonah.com

It sure seems like every other week or so, another TV series, script, or movie gets hacked and leaked, much to the dismay of producers and investors who bank on suspense and surprise to keep viewers coming back every week. Hollywood has a massive cyber security problem, and if it wants to continue turning profits, it’ll have to address it sooner rather than later.

Starting all the way back with the doomed comedy The Interview in 2014, Hollywood’s Achilles Heel has been made incredibly public. The comedy’s plot followed two talk show hosts who infiltrate North Korea to interview Kim Jong-Un. A political satire and generally crass farce, the government of North Korea threatened everything from cyber terror to theater bombs if the movie was released in its original form.

The public took North Korea’s threats as generally empty, but a group of hackers soon tapped into and disseminated confidential emails on Sony’s servers as well as not-yet-released movies including highly anticipated titles like Annie and To Write Love On Her Arms. Sony backed off and sent the movie straight to DVD/streaming with a few limited theater showings. Whether the North Korean government had anything to do with the hacking, it was clear that Sony and its property were nowhere near as safe as originally thought.

Today, TV episodes are regularly hacked and held ransom by hackers who ask for thousands of dollars in exchange for their not releasing the episode onto the internet. Game of Thrones and Orange is the New Blackhave both been victims of ransom-seeking hackers, and the hackers tend to ask for payment in the currency of Bitcoin so that it’s completely untraceable. TV Execs are still in heated debates over whether or not to pay the ransom, but given their investments in the films and their illiteracy in cyber security breaches, most choose to fork over the requested dollar amount.

Part of the issue here is that lots of freelancers with minimal cyber security precautions have a hand in the final product. From color editors to face touch ups to countless more individuals, each freelancer who has a hand in post-production has to fortify themselves against potential hackers, and their budgets often aren’t as large as that of a big corporation. Big corporations like SONY are taking extra precautions to include additional lines of defense in their contracts for independent freelancers, and C-suite executives are taking more physical precautions including clearing out emails every few days and keeping precious footage under physical lock and key rather than on a server.

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