Deadline has asked Hollywood to spend the holiday contemplating the implications of an unprecedented cyber-terror attack against Sony. When relevant, we will run pieces that might help. Here is one from Hemanshu Nigam, a former Federal Prosecutor Against Online Crime In Los Angeles and former Chief Security Officer for NewsCorp and Fox Interactive Media and VP of Worldwide Internet Enforcement under Jack Valenti’s MPAA. He is currently CEO of the Cyber Security Company SSP Blue.
The North Korean regime offered to work with the White House to jointly identify the hackers behind the Sony cyber attack; what criminal wouldn’t offer to help find the true culprit when they themselves are guilty? North Korea is still taking full advantage of the lack of leadership shown Friday by the Administration. At his year-end press conference yesterday, the President stated that Sony made the wrong decision by canceling the release of The Interview.
As a former federal prosecutor against online crimes and current cyber security advisor to Fortune 500 companies, I was left perplexed by the leadership, or lack of it by the President. At News Corporation and Fox Interactive Media, I dealt with many cyber attacks, but none like this one. Sony was apparently attacked by North Korea, a nation-state that has had rough to no diplomatic relations with the United States. In essence, Sony is the victim of a serious, debilitating, criminal act by a foreign country. As ones tasked with bringing perpetrators to justice, our primary job is help those who have been victimized, not criticize or second guess them for how they are dealing with a horrendous situation.
The ramifications of the lack of Presidential leadership for Hollywood are significant. Though we live in a capitalist society where companies are expected to defend themselves from adversaries, we cannot ever expect them to do that when under attack by an enemy nation. That is exactly what has happened here. Yes, the decision to make a movie, and when, where and how to release it, is the responsibility of Sony. When those decisions led to a terrorist-ic attack against the studio and its customers, guidance rightfully must come from our government. That is not happening here, and time is of the essence.
In order to better build a more coordinated and solidified relationship between Hollywood and the government, we must appoint our own Cyber Security Czar. I firmly believe that Hollywood needs a leader who keenly understands both our industry and our government. Studios will need support, guidance, and leadership to help them know how to respond to future attacks that seem inevitable.
We are now at a crossroads and here are the stakes: direct attacks on our freedom to express and create, and our ability to guard against terrorist attacks. We can no longer say, never the twain shall meet. A cyber attack has compromised Hollywood’s essential freedom to engage in creative expression. The Administration had an opportunity to stand up and protect that right and to ensure it continues to blossom. Instead, Sony was left to decide whether it should negotiate for the safety of American moviegoers who faced a physical threat from a very real enemy. Sony was forced to engage in a task that only the Administration is properly equipped to do. Sony, trying to do the best it could in an unprecedented situation, had its freedom of expression stolen and the President blamed them for letting it happen.
Without an Administration providing the type of leadership necessary in any direct terrorist attack, the ripple effects are persistent and far-reaching. What happens when the next piece of creative work offends a foreign country? Should we change it? If we don’t, will we get hacked, like Sony? Who will stand up and fight alongside us if we do? If we cast Seth Rogen or James Franco in our movie, will be be a target? These are just a few questions we are going to ask in Hollywood. It is clear that Hollywood needs its own cyber security czar to protect its interests, rather than rely on the government.
What’s most disconcerting is that Administration officials had seen the movie months ago, and were fully aware that North Korea had already filed a complaint with the United Nations about The Interview. And yet, as soon as the hackers demanded the movie release be pulled, the White House passed on its job to stand up for one of most fundamental rights of Americans.
Faced with such a lack of leadership, it has been left to individuals to stand up. George Clooney came out against the attack on free speech and acted Presidential, while the President sounded more like a commentator. Clooney talked about the history behind Guardians of Peace and former President Nixon’s visit to China; the President, who was the last to speak, talked about silly comedies and some guy doing something stupid. Many other Hollywood stars like Mia Farrow, Judd Apatow, Ben Stiller, and Jimmy Kimmel expressed their outrage. While some challenged Sony’s decision, the true frustration isn’t one comedy being silenced, but rather that Hollywood’s right to be creative and express itself had been suddenly crippled.
True leadership stands up for victims, helps them recover from an attack, and emboldens them to fight back. It is time for an industry to stand up for itself.