Tense times at Sony as hackers threaten more attacks

Sony Pictures is still bleeding confidential data from the sucking server wound inflicted by hackers, leading executives to take some remarkable steps to reassure understandably nervous employees.  From the New York Times:

As hackers made public more Sony Pictures Entertainment documents on Monday, Sony sought to calm its jittery employees, announcing in an internal memo that the F.B.I. would visit its Culver City, Calif., lot on Wednesday for security briefings.

In a companywide email sent on Monday afternoon, Michael Lynton, the studio’s chief executive, told staff members that the F.B.I. had dedicated “senior staff” to the global hacking investigation, which has been described by cybersecurity experts as “unprecedented and highly sophisticated.” Sony employees over the past week have seen their Social Security numbers, performance reviews, salaries, home addresses and passwords shared with the world.

In addition to the F.B.I. visit on Wednesday, Mr. Lynton announced an all-hands gathering on Friday to brief employees on the latest information regarding the attack.

As to the identity of the hackers, a clue that would appear to confirm what everyone already suspected popped up online:

Earlier on Monday, a note appeared online that for the first time appeared to link the leaking of thousands of documents over the last week to the coming Sony comedy “The Interview,” about a bumbling assassination attempt on North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un.

“Stop immediately showing the movie of terrorism,” the note said in part, although it did not specifically identify “The Interview” as that movie. The posting was apparently made by Guardians of Peace, a hacker group that has claimed responsibility for the attack.

Gosh, what a coincidence – these hackers use exactly the same rhetoric as the North Korean dictatorship when describing a movie they want censored, after attacking Sony Pictures with weapons-grade malware written in Korean!  The Norks are still officially denying responsibility for the attack, but they affectionately tousled the hair of the lovable little scamps who pulled it off, praising them for their “righteous deed.”

Threatening emails were also sent directly to some Sony employees.  Variety reproduced the full text of the message from the self-proclaimed “Guardians of Peace”:

I am the head of GOP who made you worry.

Removing Sony Pictures on earth is a very tiny work for our group which is a worldwide organization. And what we have done so far is only a small part of our further plan. It’s your false if you think this crisis will be over after some time. All hope will leave you and Sony Pictures will collapse. This situation is only due to Sony Pictures. Sony Pictures is responsible for whatever the result is. Sony Pictures clings to what is good to nobody from the beginning. It’s silly to expect in Sony Pictures to take off us. Sony Pictures makes only useless efforts. One beside you can be our member.

Many things beyond imagination will happen at many places of the world. Our agents find themselves act in necessary places. Please sign your name to object the false of the company at the email address below if you don’t want to suffer damage. If you don’t, not only you but your family will be in danger.

Nobody can prevent us, but the only way is to follow our demand. If you want to prevent us, make your company behave wisely.

The group claims it has released less than ten percent of what it stole from Sony, leaving it with a hefty inventory of blackmail material.  The Hollywood Reporter printed a statement from the FBI about its upcoming meetings with Sony employees: “As part of our commitment to helping private industry protect against the threat posed by malicious cyber criminals, the FBI routinely provides briefings on cyber security awareness.  Strong public-private partnerships are key to guarding against threats in cyberspace.”

It’s not easy to guard against a threat of this magnitude.  A computer security firm working with Sony described the weapons used in the attack as “undetectable by industry standard antivirus software,” and it was the biggest raid anyone has ever seen, including both the theft and destruction of protected data.  Evidently there are suspicions that a disgruntled employee inside Sony might have helped perpetrate the attack, which would give the FBI somebody to grill, if they can catch him.

The FBI’s involvement is appropriate, and no doubt they’ll put some very good people on the job… but at some point, if the perpetrators can be conclusively linked to the North Korean government, should it not be treated as a hostile action by a foreign nation against U.S. citizens?  A hostile action specifically intended to compromise our First Amendment rights?