This week, Sony Pictures has announced that it will not release “The Interview,” a film whose controversial subject matter is alleged to be one of the motivating factors behind a recent cyber attack against the company.
Sony released a statement to the public expressing its sadness that hackers sought to steal its intellectual property, private emails, and proprietary material in an effort to block the release of the movie.
The company’s decision follows a series of threats made by the Guardians of Peace, who are responsible for having initially breached Sony’s networks.
Their message reads: “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. (If your house is nearby, you’d better leave.)”
Sony made its decision despite the fact the Department of Homeland Security found no evidence that the threats against U.S. movie theaters were credible.
In the wake of this news, security experts and policy analysts are reframing the Sony hack as an act of cyber-terrorism, which is making many wonder how the White House will respond.
Some observers, such as Steve Bucci of conservative think tank Heritage Foundation, view the incident as an “act of war” that could potentially merit a use of force in response.
“Cyberterrorism is a more efficient [terrorism] because it’s so broad,” says Bucci. “The thing is, in this country we don’t have to fight cyber with cyber, we can do anything we want. Cyberterrorism is an act of war, and we can go and bomb the snot out of them if we want.”
But others are not so sure the Sony hack constitutes an act of cyber-terrorism. Military experts at the Pentagon are increasingly subscribing to the idea of “equivalence,” which asserts that military forces can retaliate with kinetic force if and only if a cyber attack produces an equivalent level of damage, destruction, or loss of life—none of which is evident in the Sony breach.
Further complicating the issue is whether Sony insiders helped the hackers breach the company’s networks, a scenario which would frame the issue more in terms of criminal activity.
Regardless, many believe that Sony’s decision to withdraw the movie represents a crucial blow against American’s freedom of speech. How the White House chooses to respond will therefore set an important precedent for hackers and cyber-terrorists well into the future.
“The Interview” stars Seth Rogen and James Franco as two individuals who are tasked with assassinating Kim Jong-Un, the Supreme Leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.