Reactions have been mixed to the unfolding story regarding the hacking of Sony Pictures Entertainment, the reported threats that were made by the hackers and the company’s cancellation of the planned Christmas Day release of The Interview, a comedy centered on the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Did Sony react properly? Was the movie worthy of the hackers’ efforts? And is Seth Rogan really worth paying $40 million for a lead role in a slapstick comedy?
But the hacking was so massive and the threats from the hackers intimidating enough that the film began to be treated like a ticking time bomb. The hacking and its ramifications became a significant international issue. Those developments warrant a serious response, since the Sony breach points to the potential threat of cyber warfare and to possible threats to power grids and other vital installations.
Last Friday, in a remarkably detailed and publicly circulated statement, the FBI accused North Korea of carrying out the cyber attack. President Obama followed up by promising a “proportionate” response. And he also chided Sony for caving in to fear and for canceling the movie, calling it a “mistake.”
Sony acted to protect its bottom line. We understand that. As a for-profit enterprise, Sony’s responsibility to its shareholders overrides any political statement it might want to make. But in a world where one cartoon about the Prophet Muhammad or one comedy about assassinating the North Korean dictator can have international implications, the potential fallout from these kinds of events affects us all. So what is the answer?
In these times of rapidly advancing technological developments, the laws of cyber warfare have not yet been written. But even if they were in place, there is no assurance that North Korea or Islamic militants would abide by them. The United States is pressing China to curtail Pyongyang’s cyber reach. That sort of diplomatic effort, plus America’s ongoing cyber development, may diminish such threats. But the only way the next Sony-type cyber attack can be discouraged is if our “corporate citizens” refuse to buckle to these kinds of threats. Kudos to the president for encouraging corporate America to develop a backbone.