The studio was reduced to using fax machines, communicating through posted messages, and paying its 7,000 employees with paper checks.
That was only the beginning of Sony’s horror story.
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It erased everything stored on 3,262 of the company’s 6,797 personal computers and 837 of its 1,555 servers.
To make sure nothing could be recovered, the attackers had even added a little extra poison: a special deleting algorithm that overwrote the data seven different ways.
It featured a plot to assassinate Kim Jong-un, the country’s actual leader.
Recalls Stiansen: “They said North Korea is threatening them.” (Sony denies any mention of a North Korean cyberthreat.)—starting at about 7 a.m. 24—a crushing cyberattack was launched on Sony Pictures.
When that was done, the code zapped each computer’s startup software, rendering the machines brain-dead.
From the moment the malware was launched—months after the hackers first broke in—it took just one hour to throw Sony Pictures back into the era of the Betamax.
A week later, after an uproar, the studio announced it would make the movie available, after all, through video on demand and in a few hundred theaters. 19 the FBI blamed the hack on North Korea, which had issued threats over the film. Sony was pilloried both for horrendous judgment (for making a comedy depicting the killing of North Korea’s sovereign leader) and its seeming capitulation (for its initial refusal to show the film).
In its darkest hours Sony drew zero support from Hollywood—and a blast from President Obama.
But as interviews and internal emails reveal, the studio was a deeply unhappy place, beset by pressures over disappointing profits, cost cutting and layoffs, the scorn of an activist investor, and tribal infighting.
Sony Pictures CEO Michael Lynton pursued four separate opportunities to leave the company during the 18 months before the hack. In a December interview with National Public Radio, Lynton insisted his company was “extremely well prepared for conventional cybersecurity,” but faced “the worst cyberattack in U. history.” He has repeatedly described it as a “highly sophisticated attack.” Sony Pictures provided written responses to questions through Robert Lawson, its chief spokesman.
Five Sony films, four of them unreleased, were leaked to piracy websites for free viewing.