Whether or not you are a fan of Seth Rogen or James Franco, by now you are probably very curious about their new film, The Interview.
To recap, The Interview is a fictional comedy by Sony Pictures starring Seth Rogen and James Franco, who play fictional journalists who land a rare in-person interview with Kim Jong-un, the much maligned dictator of North Korea. After setting up the interview, the two journalists are trained by the CIA to assassinate the North Korean leader.
Sounds deviant and malicious, right?
Maybe, but the film was written and directed by Rogen, whose work has never come close to breaching the threshold of serious. Even online movie trailers clearly demonstrate that the film was nothing more than a satirical spoof, and probably a bad one at that.
This did not stop sympathizers of North Korea, or at least the leader himself, from taking offense at the subject matter of the film, calling it an "act of war." In response, hackers identifying themselves as the "Guardians of Peace" and directly linked to North Korea hacked the systems at Sony Pictures on November 24th, accessing and stealing thousands of documents and other sensitive information, from scripts to upcoming movies to social security number of employees.
More recently, after several movie theaters opted not to show the premier of the movie following threats of violence by the Guardians of Peace (as ironic as that may sound), Sony announced this week it was removing the movie completely from distribution--going as far as to remove all traces of it online, including trailers, and has made absolutely no plans to release the film in any form.
It is as if the film never existed--like the bad uncle doing prison time that you never discuss at family gatherings.
In the end, writing off the movie will cost Sony Pictures by some estimates as much as $200 million, the cost of the film and marketing dollars spent. For a company that has annual revenues of nearly $17.6 billion, however, this is hardly a problem.
Regardless, Sony Pictures made a huge mistake pulling the film.
In addition to write offs and lost revenues, and forgoing any mention of the impact this decision has made on our freedoms of speech and expression (which even the US President spoke fervently against), Sony has lost much more.
They have lost respect.
Americans take their freedoms pretty serious, and to watch a company get kowtowed by a feckless leader in a far off land, for something as nominal as a Seth Rogen film, will certainly begrudge consumers.
Additionally, the Sony security breach, which has been called one of the largest in U.S. history, comes on the heels of other major breaches at Target and Home Depot, and even one that gave the world thousands of celebrity nude photos. In fact, the Pentagon has estimated that the top two thousand U.S. companies have been hacked at some point over the past couple of years.
Employees, business partners and other stakeholders will undoubtedly want accountability for the serious lack of oversight and forethought to protect the systems at Sony.
With all of this said, there are clearly lessons for other entrepreneurs.
First, it is clear that if the largest companies in the U.S. are at risk, surely smaller companies with much less security are at risk as well. Second, I know first hand how easy it is for even a decent hacker to penetrate websites and company intranets. So while entrepreneurs should be looking to find the best security they can afford, at the very least they should have an understanding and plan for addressing cyber security.
- Invest in security. Even if you are not a high tech company, it is worth investing at least the time to find out how to protect your company from cyber threats and data breaches. Knowing is half the battle.
- Avoid exposing your company. Implement stringent internet security and enforce company policies that restrict unauthorized downloads and emphasize the importance of email and internet diligence.
- Do not keep sensitive information electronically. Even with security systems and virus protection, avoid keeping social security numbers, credit card or other account numbers, and passwords electronically (when possible).
- Understand the threats. Security and threats evolve daily. Be diligent and stay current on the latest news and information.
- Follow basic security steps. Common sense measures will often ward off threats.
- Never use simple passwords and avoid using the same password for every account.
- Never allow strangers to access your computer system.
- Never use an unprotected public WiFi while accessing sensitive information.
- Shred sensitive documents, especially those with account numbers and passwords.
- Update your computer software and virus protection regularly.
A cyber threat will not cost most businesses hundreds of millions of dollars, as it will do for Sony, but the impact on a company's reputation can be just as detrimental.
Do you have any cyber security tips for entrepreneurs? Please share with others below.