Posts Tagged ‘hacker’

Sony hack threatens freedom of speech

Sony Pictures Entertainment logoWhen employees of Sony Pictures Entertainment saw their computer screens go as black as their morning coffee in mid-keystroke last month, nobody imagined the impact would have global implications.

Yet, another darkness descended with the shutdown and may persist for months if the “Sony hack” as many are calling it turns into the cyberterror devastation the alleged hackers claim will come.

Even if nothing much else results, the Sony hack likely will change the way corporations handle digital data. Otherwise, our most basic freedom is at risk.

The latest clarion call to improve digital security came early on the Monday before Thanksgiving when Sony employees were shut out of their computer network without warning. The blackout lasted days. Important files either vanished or were inaccessible. Sony Pictures, the American subsidiary of media conglomerate Sony Corp., soon learned that hackers calling themselves Guardians of Peace had sifted through and copied vast volumes of employee records and company correspondence. The hackers published some of the emails as proof — emails that revealed privileged discussions and compromised relationships within the company.

The attack was tied to the planned wide release on Christmas Day of the feature film “The Interview,” a political farce depicting the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. The hackers called it a form of terrorism and promised to retaliate against cinemas that showed the movie. Cinema owners everywhere cancelled showings, prompting Sony to pull the movie from distribution.

Hollywoodites and government howled at Sony’s decision, with a long line of celebrities stretching from George Clooney to President Barack Obama saying Sony risked undermining free speech and freedom of expression by giving in. But Sony Pictures Chairman and CEO Michael Lynton insisted he had no choice once the cinemas backed out. The company now says it will opt for other means of distribution and a limited release.

Perhaps a bigger concern to Lynton and Sony is the huge hole this hack punches into the company’s reputation. Tens of thousands of personnel records wound up in the hackers’ hands in November — and this just 10 months after another security breach by a different hacker compromised individual records belonging to almost 48,000 Sony website visitors in Germany. If Sony employees’ bank accounts, health records, and credit histories are compromised en masse, and Sony customers can blame their own financial woes on the company, the cumulative legal redress heaped on Sony could easily exceed the $44 million it cost to make “The Interview.”

So, two things now appear certain. First, the high-profile blowback from Sony’s security breach serves as incentive for corporations who say they’ll get around to improving cybersecurity but keep putting it off.

Second, Sony’s apparent capitulation to the Guardians of Peace moves cyberterror out front as a proven tool for controlling the media marketplace. Lynton insisted his company’s actions were defensible and blamed misinformation for fueling public outrage. Meanwhile, free-speech advocates filled the gap between Sony’s actions and Lynton’s logic with shrill outcry, or in some cases overt silence. that Sony will find almost impossible to overcome even after agreeing to a smaller distribution.

Hacking predates the Web, goes on everywhere, and is evolving. In the first two weeks of December alone, more than two dozen attacks considered to be on the level of cybercrime or espionage were recorded against major financial institutions, governments agencies, news organizations, sports teams, and universities. Each revealed nagging flaws in the way we store our digital data, however none received the media attention they deserved because they lacked the PR firepower of Hollywood’s glitterati.

Sony showed that media companies can be bullied into acting against the public’s best interests, that everyone from individuals on up to conglomerates needs to take better care of securing our digital data, and that our basic freedoms are doomed if we don’t.

Still using Windows XP? Then stop using Microsoft’s Web browser

A word to the stubborn ones among you who refuse to ditch Windows XP: You take a big risk clinging to a 12-year-old computer operating system after Tuesday.

Windows XP logoHowever, there’s one thing you can do to minimize that risk: Stop using Microsoft’s own Web browser, Internet Explorer, because the browser contains open paths for hackers to compromise the OS.

Microsoft ended free support for Windows XP on April 8, meaning the company no longer tweaks the OS, fixes it, or ensures protection against evolving security risks unless devotees pay for it. The cost is around $200 per PC for the first year and slides upward in succeeding years.

But Tuesday, the company released a series of security updates for its newer Windows systems that hackers could analyze and compare against XP to find flaws in the older system.

Microsoft also will release security updates for the IE browser; however, end of support tends to be comprehensive and means those fixes probably won’t make it to IE browsers run on XP, either.

Switching to a non-Microsoft browser lessens the chance of a hacker peering through the Web into XP.

Analyst estimates vary on how many PCs in the United States still run XP, but the average seems to be 13 percent. Among the die-hard users are numerous local, state, and federal agencies; financial institutions; public utilities; and media outlets.

Why cling to an OS that predates much of the modern Web? Cost is a prime reason. Microsoft nudged XP’s lifespan further down the calendar in large part because of a lukewarm reception to successor Windows Vista, which was too robust to run on most XP computers. The Vista replacement, Windows 7, received generally better reviews, but it debuted in 2009 when America’s economy was in the tank and businesses inflicted severe cuts in their own expenses, infrastructure upgrades among them.


David Sheets is a freelance writer and editor, Region 7 director, and past-president of SPJ’s St. Louis Pro chapter. Reach him by e-mail at, on Twitter at @DKSheets, on Facebook and LinkedIn.


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