The hackers who recently stole and released massive troves of data from Sony Pictures have escalated their threats: The group posted a message yesterday warning that if Sony does not put a stop to the release of The Interview, a raunchy forthcoming comedy about two journalists tasked with assassinating North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the group will stage attacks on theaters where the movie is shown.
"Soon all the world will see what an awful movie Sony Pictures Entertainment has made," the message says. "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. (If your house is nearby, you'd better leave.) Whatever comes in the coming days is called by the greed of Sony Pictures Entertainment. All the world will denounce the SONY."
In response, Sony has canceled the New York premiere of the film, told theater owners that they have no obligation to show the movie, and halted scheduled press events for the movie's stars, Seth Rogen and James Franco. Carmike Cinemas, the nation's fourth largest movie theater chain, has already said that it will not show the movie, which is scheduled for a Christmas day release. There's some concern that theaters that show the movie could be legally liable in the event of an attack now that a threat has been made.
An official with the Department of Homeland Security told The New York Times that there were no signs that a plot against movie theaters was in the works, but that the agency is investigating the threat.
The hacking group, which some reports have suggested may be linked to the North Korean government, has already released a slew of internal emails and other communications harvested from their attack on Sony, which shut down the company's computer operations for days last month. Finished but unreleased feature-length films, including Annie, have been posted to online file-sharing networks in the wake of the attacks. Estimates indicate that cost of repairing computers systems, investigating the attack, and upgrading the company's electronic security measures could cost upwards of $70 million. Additional legal costs and other damages could put the hack's price tag well over $100 million.
The hackers have targeted the release of The Interview from the beginning, but most of the leaked documents don't have anything to do with the movie. However, one set of emails between Sony chief Amy Pascal and Rogen, who co-wrote and co-directed the film, shows intense discussions over the graphic particulars of how the film depicts Kim Jong Un's gory death. The emails, reported by Gawker, also show internal studio concern about the movie's original release date, October 10, which coincided with a North Korean state holiday.
The big question now is whether Sony might pull the movie entirely. That doesn't seem likely, as experts tell MarketWatch, but Sony isn't commenting one way or another at this point. If Sony does go ahead and yank the movie from release entirely, it would add considerably to the cost of the hack—and it would set a dangerous precedent, proving that a major U.S. movie studio, or any other media company, could be blackmailed into submission for even planning to criticize a foreign dictator.