Refresh for latest… The cyber attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment continues to cripple the company, embarrassing its top executives and those who do business with them, as e-mails and confidential information are sifted and selectively published by anyone with access to the hackers’ dump. Here is how the story broke, day-by-day. We’ll continue to update as it unfolds.
Day 1: Monday, November 24
At Sony Pictures Entertainment’s headquarters in Culver City, a typical week begins. The first sign of a digital break-in comes early that morning, when the image of a stylized skull with long skeletal fingers flashes on every employee’s computer screen at the same time, accompanied by a threatening message warning that “This is just the beginning.” The hackers say “we’ve obtained all your internal data,” and warn that if Sony doesn’t “obey” their demands, they will release the company’s “top secrets.”
At 10:50 A.M., Deadline’s Mike Fleming breaks the news that Sony Pictures has been hacked. Phones and e-mail service are paralyzed, and as are all computers.
“Things have come to a standstill at Sony today, after the computers in New York and around the world were infiltrated by a hacker,” Fleming reports. “As a precaution, computers in Los Angeles were shut down while the corporation deals with the breach. It has basically brought the whole global corporation to an electronic standstill.”
Calling themselves “Guardians of Peace,” the hackers have obtained some 100 terabytes of data stolen from Sony servers. To put that into perspective, 10 terabytes can hold the entire printed collection of the Library of Congress.
Day 2: Tuesday, November 25
Sony computers remain shut down in New York, overseas and on the Culver City lot. SPE spokesperson Jean Guerin says, “We are investigating an IT matter.” Multiple news organizations report that the studio has suffered a security breach, but the depth and breadth of the breach hasn’t yet been grasped, at least outside the company: The BBC quotes an expert predicting that the hack would be less damaging than the one on Sony’s PlayStation three years earlier. “The hack on PlayStation was massive, expensive and absolutely embarrassing,” Wee Teck Loo, head of consumer electronics research at Euromonitor, told the BBC. “This time around, I don’t believe that there will be massive damage, save for Sony’s ego, even if the hack is real.”
Day 3: Wednesday, November 26
The day before Thanksgiving, Sony employees are still working without computers, e-mail and voice mail.
Day 4, Thursday, November 27
Five Sony films, including four that had yet to be released, are dumped onto online file-sharing hubs. Within a week, Brad Pitt’s Fury, which was already in theaters, would be illegally downloaded more than 1 million times. Annie, Mr. Turner, Still Alice and To Write Love On Her Arms, all of which were not yet in theaters, were also being downloaded.
Day 5: Friday, November 28
First reports surface that Sony suspects that North Korea may be responsible for the attack in retaliation for The Interview, a comedy about a bumbling plot to assassinate North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. A North Korean website calls The Interview “an evil act of provocation.”
Day 6: Saturday, November 29
Sony’s computer system is still down. E-mail and voice mail still inoperative.
Day 7: Sunday, November 30
More speculation and reports that North Korea is behind the attack.
Day 8: Monday, December 1
The pre-bonus salaries of the top 17 Sony executives are leaked. The files also contain the salaries of more than 6,000 current and former Sony employees. Many sites, including Deadline, publish the executives’ figures.
Sony hires FBI SealMandiant, a cyber-security firm, to help investigate the attack. The FBI confirms that it has launched its own investigation. FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller says that “The FBI is working with our interagency partners to investigate the recently reported cyber intrusion at Sony Pictures Entertainment. The targeting of public and private sector computer networks remains a significant threat, and the FBI will continue to identify, pursue, and defeat individuals and groups who pose a threat in cyberspace.”
Day 9: Tuesday, December 2
One week and two days after the breach, Sony chiefs Michael Lynton and Amy Pascal issue a company-wide alert to employees about the attack: “It is now apparent that a large amount of confidential Sony Pictures Entertainment data has been stolen by the cyber attackers, including personnel information and business documents. This is the result of a brazen attack on our company, our employees and our business partners. This theft of Sony materials and the release of employee and other information are malicious criminal acts, and we are working closely with law enforcement…While we are not yet sure of the full scope of information that the attackers have or might release, we unfortunately have to ask you to assume that information about you in the possession of the company might be in their possession. While we would hope that common decency might prevent disclosure, we of course cannot assume that… We can’t overemphasize our appreciation to all of you for your extraordinary hard work, commitment and resolve.”
Day 10: Wednesday, December 3
A collection of Sony employees’ scathing critiques of Adam Sandler movies is extracted from a huge dump of stolen data. The cache also contains PDF files showing the passports and visas of cast and crew members, including those of Angelina Jolie and Jonah Hill, who have worked on Sony films. Film budgets and confidential contracts, and the user names and passwords of Sony executives are also included in the dump. Some of the information is published on fringe media sites, stirring concern among more mainstream venues both print and digital about how the use of stolen material.
A 25-page list of employee workplace complaints is published. Tech site re/code reports that Sony is fighting back, using hundreds of computers in Asia to execute a “denial of service” attacks on sites where its stolen data is being made available.
Sony releases a statement saying that “The investigation continues into this very sophisticated cyber attack.” The studio also says that a report by re/code that North Korea has been identified as the source of the attack is “not accurate.”
The theft claims another corporate victim – Deloitte, the giant consulting and auditing firm – when the Sony hackers dump the salaries of 30,000 of its employees into Pastebin, an anonymous posting website.
Day 11: Thursday, December 4
The Associated Press reports that some cyber-security experts say they’ve found “striking similarities between the code used in the hack of Sony Pictures Entertainment and attacks blamed on North Korea which targeted South Korean companies and government agencies last year.”
Day 12: Friday, December 5
Hackers claiming to be the Guardians of Peace e-mail Sony employees a poorly worded threat, vowing to hurt them and their families if they don’t sign a statement repudiating the company. “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 e-mail address below if you don’t want to suffer damage. If you don’t, not only you but your family will be in danger.”
Day 13: Saturday, December 6
James Franco, hosting Saturday Night Live, mocks the Sony hackers during his opening monologue. “Something pretty crazy happened this week. I have this movie called The Interview coming out at Sony and this week Sony Studios got all their computers hacked. This is true. These hackers have leaked real personal information about everybody that works at Sony. Social security numbers, e-mails, and I know eventually they’re going to start leaking out stuff about me. So before you hear it from someone else, I thought it would be better if you hear it from me. Soon you’ll know that my e-mail is [email protected] My password is LittleJamesyCutiePie — and this is all just a real violation of my personal life.”
Mandiant chief Kevin Mandia reports to Sony Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton that “the scope of this attack differs from any we have responded to in the past, as its purpose was to both destroy property and release confidential information to the public. The bottom line is that this was an unparalleled and well planned crime, carried out by an organized group.”
Day 14: Sunday, December 7
North Korea denies involvement in the hack while praising it as a “righteous deed.”
Day 15: Monday, December 8
A letter posted by the Guardians of Peace on a file-sharing site warns Sony to “Stop immediately showing the movie of terrorism which can break regional peace and cause the War!” The letter also denies responsibility for Friday’s threats against Sony employees and their families. More vague demands by hackers go up on GitHub. A long list of celebrity aliases is released.
Day 16: Tuesday, December 9
Full dump of Pascal’s e-mails. Gawker publishes an exchange between Rudin and Pascal about Angelina Jolie in which he writes, “I’m not destroying my career over a minimally talented spoiled brat.” At issue is a dispute over director David Fincher, who Rudin wants to helm his film about Apple founder Steve Jobs, rather than work on Jolie’s Cleopatra.
Day 16: Wednesday, December 10
An e-mail exchange between Pascal and producer Scott Rudin about President Obama’s “favorite movies,” all of them black-themed, is released, setting off a firestorm of criticism and accusations of racism.
Day 17: Thursday, December 11
Rudin apologizes for racially insensitive remarks about President Obama. “Private e-mails between friends and colleagues written in haste and without much thought or sensitivity, even when the content of them is meant to be in jest, can result in offense where none was intended,” he told Deadline. “I made a series of remarks that were meant only to be funny, but in the cold light of day, they are in fact thoughtless and insensitive — and not funny at all. To anybody I’ve offended, I’m profoundly and deeply sorry, and I regret and apologize for any injury they might have caused.”
The Interview premieres amid tight security at the Ace Hotel’s theater in downtown Los Angeles. Before the film begins, Seth Rogen takes the stage and thanks Amy Pascal “for having the balls to make this movie.”
The MPAA releases its first comment on the hack: “We have no comment at this time. We’re not involved.”
Pascal breaks her silence and apologizes for racially insensitive remarks made in an unguarded moment, in a private e-mail that had been hacked. In her first interview since the hacking, she tells Deadline’s Mike Fleming why she hadn’t spoken sooner: “I didn’t want to talk before. I didn’t want to make this about me. Everyone at this company has been violated and nobody here deserved this. Then the most hurtful e-mail came out…I’m so disappointed in myself, that I ever would have had such a lapse in my thinking. Of all the things I thought might be said about me, this was the last one, and I feel awful.”
Day 18: Friday, December 12
Gawker, Buzzfeed, and Bloomberg News report that stolen documents released by hackers include the medical records of dozens of Sony employees. Conditions listed include cancers, cirrhosis of the liver, and premature births. A leaked H.R. spreadsheet includes the birth dates, health conditions and medical costs incurred by 34 employees, their spouses, and their children. So far, no news outlet has published any of the names listed in the documents
Day 19: Saturday, December 13
Hackers release seventh large dump of Sony files and promise a “Christmas gift” that will put Sony Pictures “into the worst state.”
Day 20: Sunday, December 14
An early version of the script for Spectre, the next James Bond film, is among the latest batch of stolen documents to be released. MGM and Danjaq, which own the rights to the script, say they “will take all necessary steps to protect their rights against the persons who stole the screenplay, and against anyone who makes infringing uses of it or attempts to take commercial advantage of confidential property it knows to be stolen.” The theft of the MGM property reflects that Sony isn’t alone in dealing with the fallout from the ransacking, and show how fast this particular cancer can metastasize.
The MPAA issues its first public statement on the cyber attack: “Obviously this is a very difficult time for Sony. Sony is not just a valued member of our association family, but they are friends and colleagues and we feel for them personally. From the highest levels of our organization working with the highest levels of theirs, we are doing anything and everything that Sony believes could be helpful and will continue to do so.”
Sony has hired famed litigator David Boies, who sends a letter to news organizations demanding that they delete any stolen information they have been given by the hackers. Sony “does not consent to your possession, review, copying, dissemination, publication, uploading, downloading or making any use” of the information, Boies writes, adding that media companies should avoid the stolen information, and delete or destroy it from their computers if they’ve downloaded it.
Day 21: Monday, December 15
Sony Pictures CEO Michael Lynton, speaking at an “all-hands” town hall meeting on the studio’s lot in Culver City, tells employees that the ongoing investigation is being handled at the “highest level” of the FBI, and vows that the cyber attack would not bring the company down.
Aaron Sorkin, writer of several Rudin-produced projects including HBO’s The Newsroom and the films Social Network and the Jobs movie, publishes an Op-Ed column in the New York Times accusing journalists of abetting criminals in disseminating stolen information. “[B]ecause I and two movies of mine get a little dinged up, I feel I have the credibility to say this: I don’t care,” Sorkin writes. “Because the minor insults that were revealed are such small potatoes compared to the fact that they were revealed. Not by the hackers, but by American journalists helping them…If you close your eyes you can imagine the hackers sitting in a room, combing through the documents to find the ones that will draw the most blood. And in a room next door are American journalists doing the same thing. As demented and criminal as it is, at least the hackers are doing it for a cause. The press is doing it for a nickel.”
A class-action lawsuit is filed against the studio by former employees claiming that Sony took inadequate safeguards to protect their personal data. “An epic nightmare, much better suited to a cinematic thriller than to real life, is unfolding in slow motion for Sony’s current and former employees,” the complaint says.
Day 22: Tuesday, December 16
In an e-mail to reporters, the cyberterrorists threaten to attack movie theaters that show The Interview. It’s the first time they’ve mentioned the film by name in their badly worded communiqués. “We will clearly show it to you at the very time and places The Interview be shown, including the premiere, how bitter fate those who seek fun in terror should be doomed to. Soon all the world will see what an awful movie Sony Pictures Entertainment has made. The world will be full of fear. Remember the 11th of September 2001. We recommend you to keep yourself distant from the places at that time.”
“We are aware of the threat,” the FBI tells Deadline. The Department of Homeland Security issues a statement saying that it has “no credible intelligence to indicate an active plot against movie theaters within the United States.”
Seth Rogen and James Franco abruptly cancel their promotional tour for the film through the rest of the week. The Interview is set to open Christmas Day.
The National Association of Theatre Owners says it has “no comment at this time.”
Another huge data dump includes thousands of e-mails stolen from Sony Pictures Co-Chairman and CEO Michael Lynton. “We have already promised a Christmas gift to you,” the Guardians of Peace write in an e-mail. “This is the beginning of the gift.”
A second class-action suit is filed by former Sony employees claiming that the studio was negligent in not protecting their personal data.
Sony tells theater owners they can pull The Interview if they are worried about those threats the hackers made earlier in the day. Carmike becomes the first chain to say it won’t show the film.
Landmark Theatres says the New York premiere of The Interview has been canceled. The event had been set for Thursday night at the Sunshine Cinema on the Lower East Side.
Sony Pictures scraps the planned Christmas Day release of The Interview after cyber terrorists threaten to blow up theaters that show the film. “In light of the decision by the majority of our exhibitors not to show the film The Interview, we have decided not to move forward with the planned December 25 theatrical release,” Sony said in a statement, “We respect and understand our partners’ decision and, of course, completely share their paramount interest in the safety of employees and theater-goers. Sony Pictures has been the victim of an unprecedented criminal assault against our employees, our customers, and our business. Those who attacked us stole our intellectual property, private emails, and sensitive and proprietary material, and sought to destroy our spirit and our morale – all apparently to thwart the release of a movie they did not like. We are deeply saddened at this brazen effort to suppress the distribution of a movie, and in the process do damage to our company, our employees, and the American public. We stand by our filmmakers and their right to free expression and are extremely disappointed by this outcome.”
The move comes after the National Association of Theatre Owners tells exhibitors it’s OK to yank the film “so that our guests may enjoy a safe holiday movie season experiencing the many other exciting films we have to offer.”
Press screenings set for Wednesday night in New York, Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Cincinnati, Detroit and Austin also are cancelled.
New Regency scraps plans to produced an untitled thriller that was to be set in North Korea. The film was to star Steve Carell for director Gore Verbinski. Steve Conrad wrote the script.
Sony pulls all TV advertising for The Interview.
Leaked emails show that Lionsgate executives wanted to meet Sony CEO Kazuo Hirai and “toss around ideas about a possible merger or acquisition.”
The U.S. government is expected to announce Thursday that North Korea is behind the cyberattack on Sony Pictures.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest tells reporters the Sony cyberattack and the ensuing threats need a tempered response. “I can tell you that, consistent with the president’s previous statements about how we will protect against, monitor and respond to cyber incidents, this is something that’s being treated as a serious national security issue,” he said.
Sony is hit with a third class-action lawsuit by former employees who claims they were “left in the dark.”
In place of The Interview, several independent theaters plan to protest North Korea’s attack by showing Team America: World Police, the 2004 comedic swipe at North Korea from the creators of South Park. Those plans are scrapped when Paramount Pictures decides not to offer the film for redistribution. The Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Dallas states that the cancellation is “due to circumstances beyond our control.” Cleveland’s Capitol Theater tweets that its plans to show Team America “has been canceled by Paramount pictures.”
The MPAA and Google engaged in a verbal fight over “Project Goliath,” a so-called secret tactic was revealed in communications that came out of the massive hacking of Sony. Google SVP and General Counsel Kent Walker wrote in a blog post: . “We are deeply concerned about recent reports that the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) led a secret, coordinated campaign to revive the failed SOPA legislation through other means, and helped manufacture legal arguments in connection with an investigation by Mississippi State Attorney General Jim Hood.” The MPAA fired back: ““Google’s effort to position itself as a defender of free speech is shameful.”
George Clooney, in an exclusive interview with Deadline’s Mike Fleming, reveals that he and his agent, CAA’s Bryan Lourd, circulated a letter in support of Sony Pictures, but not a single one of Hollywood’s top executives would sign it. The letter, he says, “was sent to basically the heads of every place. They told Bryan Lourd, ‘I can’t sign this.’ What? How can you not sign this? Nobody signed the letter…nobody wanted to be the first to sign on. Now, this isn’t finger-pointing on that. This is just where we are right now, how scared this industry has been made. Quite honestly, this would happen in any industry. I don’t know what the answer is, but what happened here is part of a much larger deal. A huge deal.” Clooney also urged the industry not to allow this attack to have a chilling effect on the kind of movies it makes, but fears that it will. “What’s going to happen is, you’re going to have trouble finding distribution..The truth is, you’re going to have a much harder time finding distribution now. And that’s a chilling effect. We should be in the position right now of going on offense with this. I just talked to Amy an hour ago. She wants to put that movie out. What do I do? My partner Grant Heslov and I had the conversation with her this morning. Bryan and I had the conversation with her last night. Stick it online. Do whatever you can to get this movie out. Not because everybody has to see the movie, but because I’m not going to be told we can’t see the movie. That’s the most important part. We cannot be told we can’t see something by Kim Jong-un, of all f*cking people.”
Word surfaces early in the day that the hackers have contacted Sony again, this time to say that pulling The Interview was a “very wise decision”. The email went on to imply that as long as the movie was kept out of theaters and elsewhere, the attacks would end, but it implied a new threat that if the movie was released on VOD or otherwise, that the threats would continue.
The FBI confirms publicly that the government of North Korea was behind the Sony hack and the ensuing threats to moviegoers. “As a result of our investigation, and in close collaboration with other U.S. Government departments and agencies, the FBI now has enough information to conclude that the North Korean government is responsible for these actions,” the Bureau said. “North Korea’s actions were intended to inflict significant harm on a U.S. business and suppress the right of American citizens to express themselves.”
The first question President Obama gets during his annual year-end press conference is about Sony deciding not to release The Interview. Sony “made a mistake” in caving to North Korean hackers, Obama says bluntly. He adds that the United States “will respond proportionally” to the cyber attack on the studio — which included threatening to harm moviegoers — “at a place and time we choose.” Later, he says: “We cannot have a society in which some dictator someplace can start imposing censorship here in the United States” he said in an extremely strong answer to a question about the hack of the studio. “Because if somebody is able to intimidate folks out of releasing a satirical movie, imagine what they start doing when they see a documentary that they don’t like, or a news report that they don’t like — or even worse, imagine if producers and distributors and others start engaging in self-censorship because they don’t want to offend the sensibilities of somebody whose sensibilities probably need to be offended. That’s not who we are. That’s not what America is about.”
Sony Pictures CEO Michael Lynton goes on CNN to reply to the president’s remarks. “We did not cave. We did not back down,” he says, proceding to lay much of the blames on the exhibitors who refused to show The Interview. Later, Sony releases an official statement: ” The decision not to move forward with the December 25 theatrical release of The Interview was made as a result of the majority of the nation’s theater owners choosing not to screen the film. This was their decision. Let us be clear – the only decision that we have made with respect to release of the film was not to release it on Christmas Day in theaters, after the theater owners declined to show it. Without theaters, we could not release it in the theaters on Christmas Day. We had no choice.”
A Rand expert who says he saw the movie at Sony’s request says he told that studio that its release would have damaged Kim Jung-un internally.
BitTorrent steps up to say it’s willing to distribute The Interview on its Bundle service.
Day 26: Saturday, December 20
Proclaiming its innocence, North Korea invites the U.S. to take part in a joint investigation of the Sony attack, and warns of “serious consequences” if the U.S. retaliates.
Day 27: Sunday, December 21
In its harshest rhetoric to date, and claiming that the U.S. was behind the making of The Interview, North Korea threatens to attack “the White House, the Pentagon and the whole U.S. mainland” after President Obama says the U.S. will “respond proportionally” to North Korea’s cyber attack on Sony Pictures.
Day 28: Monday, December 22
The U.S. government calls on North Korea to compensate Sony Pictures for the cyber attack, even though the Hermit Kingdom continues to deny responsibility. “The government of North Korea has a long history of denying responsibility for its destructive and provocative actions,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf tells reporters, “and if they want to help here, they can admit their culpability and compensate Sony for the damage they caused.” Damage to the studio, and the losses it incurred from shelving the release of The Interview, is expected to top $100 million — possibly much more.
Harf downplays North Korea’s threat to attack “the White House, the Pentagon and the whole U.S. mainland” if the U.S. retaliates for the Sony hack. The State Department, she says, has “no specific credible threat information that lends credence” to the threat.
Angered at being blamed for the Sony attack, North Korea bows out of a United Nations Security Council meeting, where the Hermit Kingdom’s dismal human rights record is to be discussed.
Amy Adams’ scheduled appearance on Today to talk about her new film Big Eyes is cancelled after she tells the show’s insistent producers that she won’t talk about the Sony attack.
Day 29: Tuesday, December 23
Sony does an about-face and announces it will release The Interview on Christmas Day after all, saying that film will be released to any theaters that want to screen it. The film will be released simultaneously in homes on VOD. “We have never given up on releasing The Interview and we’re excited our movie will be in a number of theaters on Christmas Day,” said Michael Lynton, Chairman and CEO of Sony Entertainment. “At the same time, we are continuing our efforts to secure more platforms and more theaters so that this movie reaches the largest possible audience.”
President Obama praises Sony’s decision to release the film. “The president applauds Sony’s decision to authorize screenings of the film,” the White House says. “As the president made clear, we’re a country that believes in free speech and the right of artistic expression. The decision made by Sony and participating theaters allows people to make their own choices about the film and we welcome that outcome.”
Seth Rogen, James Franco and director Evan Goldberg cheer Sony’s decision to release their movie. Rogen tweets: “The people have spoken! Freedom has prevailed! Sony didn’t give up!” Franco tweets: “VICTORY!!!!!!! The PEOPLE and THE PRESIDENT have spoken!!!” Goldberg tweets: Thanks to everyone who didn’t give up on our movie! @Sethrogen & I are humbled & overwhelmed by your support. Hope you enjoy the film!”
Day 30: Wednesday, December 24
Sony makes The Interview available for rent online for $5.99 via YouTube Movies, Google Play, Microsoft’s Xbox Video and a dedicate site run by the studio. It can be bought in HD for $14.99.