Sony, you have the wrong Dakota
I get emails. Lots of emails. I get tons and tons of emails. Some of them aren’t for me, but they are for someone with presumably the same name.
I know one Dakota Smith likes to shop at Party City. Another owns a Mustang and gets its oil changed at an Express Oil Change in Lexington, SC. There’s the PV-2 in the Army, the seasonal firefighter for the forest service, the Los Angeles journalist, the one who works as a caterer, countless high school students. I can barely keep up with who I’m not.
I created a label in my Gmail account for them all: wrongdakota. The problem predates the label, yet there are 351 threads with that label.
This is a story about the 60 emails I got last year from Sony Pictures Entertainment. But first, the news!
That screwy, ballyhooey Hollywood
Maybe you haven’t heard, but Sony Pictures was hacked recently. The specifics sound like a parody of hacking you would see in a 90s movie. Thousands of computers were hacked, employee files deleted, desktop backgrounds changed to a picture of a skeleton. The hackers dumped files containing HR, salary & budget information, even passwords for external accounts. Full movies not yet released were seeded to BitTorrent from Sony’s own compromised servers.
No computers anywhere could be used. The screens in the gym were deactivated. Some on premises shops went cash only. The Yogurtland shut down entirely. Employees had to resort to working on pen & paper.
I never worked for Sony Pictures Entertainment, and after writing this I probably never will.
Let’s do lunch
I had no idea what I was in for when I got the initial OpenTable invite from a person I didn’t know, to go to a restaurant in Culver City.
My reply went out ten minutes later.
Sorry, but I must have received this email in error.
Please check your intended recipient and ensure you have the correct email address.
Thanks and have a good evening,
About five hours later, I received the same invitation forwarded from the same person. I responded again, keeping my tone courteous and giving a bit more detail. Like I said, this happens to me frequently, and my policy is to try to help everyone involved get the information to the person they intended, because that is how they stop emailing me.
The next day I received another email, this time from a different sender.
I sent out a short response the day after to let them know they had the wrong Dakota Smith and got a “Whoops! Thanks for letting me know,” type response. I looked back and noticed the OpenTable invitation also came from an @spe.sony.com email address.
I Googled some of the names in the email and found out the person who invited me to dinner was an editor and producer. And my email address was supposed to go to her assistant. “Good thing I reached out to let them know,” I thought.
Didn’t get the memo
Over the next two months I got 60 emails.
I was sent schedules, scouting reports, release forms, requests for kids’ art & junk mail. A crew list with the names, email addresses & phone numbers of everyone. The script of the pilot, even dailies when they started shooting.
The ad hoc band I was in at the time, Music Learning Club, really wanted to shoot the script when I told them what was happening. I thought that would be hilarious, or at least funnier than the script. Fortunately, I listened to my much smarter friend and editor Neal Pollack, who explained why not to do that in a single word.
Since there was nothing I could do to stop the emails from coming in, I did nothing. I didn’t watch the dailies, I didn’t call anyone and try to get my break in Hollywood, I didn’t email the crew to say I quit. I just added my label and archived the emails as they came in.
Eventually they stopped. Maybe they figured it out, maybe the project ended. Maybe the assistant who couldn’t correctly communicate an email address was fired.
People are the weakest link
One thing that struck me in all of this was the use of personal email addresses. It seemed about half of the emails were from or to @yahoo.com, @gmail.com, @me.com, @mac.com or some other personal email provider. The other half were from @spe.sony.com corporate email addresses.
Kevin Mitnick famously showed that social engineering gave him the opportunities and access to become known as the “most notorious hacker in the world.” But who needs information mining when you can get ore directly from the vein?
Sony Pictures wasn’t just incorrectly emailing my personal email address. They allowed privileged information to be sent to anyone’s personal email address, where the security of the information is only as strong as the users’ password, tech savvy, and behaviors. Is it any wonder they were hacked? Not to their employees.
Maybe the Sony Pictures employee who said this was surprised:
I will not invest $10 million to avoid a possible $1 million loss. — Jason Spaltro
Of course, at the time he was their Executive Director of Information Security. Now he’s SVP of Information Security. His savvy experiment of good-enough compliance served him well and saved money. Until it didn’t and fucked everyone over.
I still get lots of email intended for other Dakota Smiths, and I always make a point to try to correct it. I can only do so much, though.
I remember in 2008, a grandparent was emailing me, but it wasn’t any of my grandparents. I repeatedly tried to tell them they had the wrong email address through normal, respectful means, but nothing got my point across. Mee-maw and papaw were convinced they were emailing Cody.
The election cycle was in full force, and with Barack Hussein Obama as the Democratic nominee for President, mee-maw was keeping her grandchild informed as only a bigoted octogenarian can.
I knew how I could get the emails to stop. The conversation had to be taken out of the faceless ether and into real life. I sent a one sentence reply.
Grandma, stop sending me this racist bullshit
I never heard from mee-maw again.