Cyber crimes and internet frauds, as well as newly coined term, cyber terrorism has long ago become the reality of modern life. This is despite the fact that some two decades ago the terms sounded rather as something exotic, as something, that has not much in common with the lives of average people. In modern world criminals more and more frequently prefer the quietness of a cozy office to the romance of a night road, and mouse and a keyboard have replaced weapon in their hands. Another important tendency is that modern cyber criminals do not always seek the opportunity to earn money by means of their illegal actions. At least, this is not their primary and most obvious goal. In many instances these people are after forcing big companies, powerful people and even the entire states to accept the course of action which is forced on them.
This is why terrorism is the word, which is heard more and more frequently in this context. When speaking of the phenomenon, one will certainly first of all remember recent hacks of the US election system, which has been brought up by the intelligence services. However, going beyond the most evident, it would be reasonable to bring up another case of cyber crime, which took place three years ago, and was undertaken against a significant US company – Sony Pictures.
On November 24, 2014 a hack was undertaken against Sony Pictures. The responsibility was taken by the group of hackers, who referred to themselves as GOP (Guardians of Peace). The group not only hacked a significant volume of information related to the company, but also released this information. The information stolen included information about the employees of the company, their personal correspondence, financial data, which included the volumes of the salaries paid to the company executives. Even more painfully for the company’s business, the leaked information contained the films, the rights for which belonged to the company, but had not been released at the time. In the beginning the goals of the hackers’ group was not clear. However in December of the same year they demanded that the company would not release their film “the Interview”. It was a comedy about the plans to murder the North Korean leader. The group also claimed that they were going to hack the cinemas which dare to demonstrate the film. The intentions of the group worked perfectly well. A number of cinemas refused to show the film, and, as a result, Sony Pictures had to cancel the final release of the film. The company released the digital version of the film and then proceeded to the limited theatrical release. Intelligence services of the United States after a lengthy research related the incident with the hackers, sponsored and motivated by North Korea authorities. At the same time the officials of the isolated country have refused to recognize their relation to the entire story.
It remains unknown how much time the group of hackers spent on their project, but the estimate of the investigators is that they required at least two months copying the files needed for the undertaking. The representatives of GOP claim that they had access to the files for a year prior to releasing the information (Zetter, 2014). Another loud claim of the group was that the amount of data, of which they got hold, was as large as 100 terabytes (Cook, 2014). Yet this claim has never been backed up with any sort of evidence so far.
The tool, applied to perform the hack was the server message block worm, also known as SMB. The tool applied was targeted at obtaining multiple accesses to the servers, download information and cause destruction as well as disguise the trace of the malware presence on the server. On the 24th of November 2014 some of the computers of employees of Sony Pictures were blocked by the malware. At the same time several twitter accounts were also taken control of. The 24 of November was a Monday, and on previous Friday several of the company’s executives received a message which they treated as regular spam and left unattended. The message was stated to have been sent by the group which called themselves “”God’sApstls”. They requested a compensation for not having the entire company bombarded and hacked. On November 24, when the malware was run on Sony servers, a message was sent over to the company. The message suggested that the company was given the time until eleven P.M. that evening to take the decision as for their further actions. However, when the deadline approached, nothing particular took place, or at least nothing, that would be noticed by the company executives.
The following days the hacker group began to release the data. They began with the films. As mentioned above, these films were not released at the moment of the leak. At the same time some segments of personal information were also published and thus the group made successful attempts to attract the attention of the media.
Sony Pictures reacted on the fly. They arranged their own employees to address the situation, addressed FBI and private investigating companies to trace the attack. Only four days later the first report was published stating that North Korean government was related to the attack.
It is also important to state, that the officials of the country in isolation had articulated their disappointment regarding the plans of Sony Pictures to release the film about assassination of North Korean leader. They stated that such a release of a comedy about assassination of an independent state’s leader was a very unfriendly gesture from the side of the United States and those they, the officials of North Korea, recognized as an act of war. They also said, that by allowing the release and distribution of the film US authorities were sponsoring terrorism.
In the first quarter of 2015 alone Sony pictures provided for $15 million to be spent on dealing with the consequences of the hack (Frizell, 2015). However all the losses, related to the hack, are hard to estimate, since the hack caused significant personal data leak, and
When speaking of cyber crime, one deals with two major groups of cyber criminals. These are accidental fraudsters and predators. In this particular case Sony Pictures appears to be a victim of the latter. The hack was carefully planned and targeted at a particular company. Accidental fraudsters would only be interested in the money, while in case of Sony Pictures Hack the goal of the hacker group was much more significant. Most obviously, the group was sponsored by the government of North Korea and their actions were driven mainly by political motives. However the example of Sony Pictures shows how effective team work can be when dealing with such threads. Within a very short period of time, due to team actions, the company managed to arrange their own human forces and to attract intelligence services on the state level to minimize the influence of the hack on the employees of the company. However, the company failed to minimize the losses, which came as a result of not releasing the film itself. In general, it would have been possible to attract additional attention to the film and release it with even more of success, than previously expected, in case its scandalous history was used as an advertising tool, so to speak.
In general, the example of Sony Pictures shows, how significant is the thread of cyber crime and cyber terrorism for a modern, highly technological company.
- Cook, James. (December 16, 2014). “Sony Hackers Have Over 100 Terabytes Of Documents. Only Released 200 Gigabytes So Far”. Business Insider.
- Frizell, Sam (February 4, 2015). “Sony Is Spending $15 Million to Deal With the Big Hack”. Time.
- Zetter, Kim (December 3, 2014). “Sony Got Hacked Hard: What We Know and Don’t Know So Far”. Wired.