Terrorist Threats May Blow Up ‘The Interview’s’ Box Office

The Interview may be a huge exception to Hollywood's rule that there's no such thing as bad publicity. Moviegoers may not be curious enough about the comedy to risk becoming victims of a terrorist attack -- whether carried out by North Korea, the Guardians of the Peace, or some crazy person who's caught up in the uproar. Maybe Sony should try an online launch or send it straight to DVD.

The now-notoriously controversial action comedy The Interview, which was expected to deliver profits of US$90-$95 million for Sony, may have become a financial black hole.

The movie’s Thursday premiere in New York has been cancelled, and several movie theater chains have scrapped plans to screen it, following a hacker message referencing 9/11 and threatening physical attacks on theaters.

Sony executives tacitly agreed to the cancellations, according to reports, but it’s not clear whether Sony has axed the movie’s Christmas debut.

Sony Pictures Entertainment did not respond to our request for further details.

The Short Arm of the Law

Sony requested help from law enforcement agencies including the United States Department of Homeland Security and the FBI to track down the cybercriminals who breached its networks in November.

The FBI on Tuesday said it was “aware of recent threats” in a statement provided to TechNewsWorld by spokesperson Jenny Shearer. The agency is continuing “to work collaboratively with our partners to investigate the Sony attack.”

The DHS on Tuesday said it was still analyzing the credibility of the hackers’ statements and that there was then no credible intelligence to indicate an active plot against movie theaters within the U.S.

What the Hackers Promised

“We will clearly show it to you at the very time and places ‘The Interview’ be shown, including the premiere, how bitter fate those who seek fun in terror should be doomed to,” began the threat released by the hackers, who call themselves “Guardians of the Peace.”

“Soon all the world will see what an awful movie Sony Pictures Entertainment has made,” the message continues.

“The world will be full of fear. Remember the 11th of September 2011. 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.”

What the Movie Could Cost Sony

The budget for The Interview reportedly was $44 million, based on documents leaked by the Sony hackers.

At the very least, Sony will be out $45 million or so if the movie is killed. Further, it might face lawsuits if anyone should be injured or killed at or near a theater where the movie is screened.

Costs associated with cybersecurity improvements, possible probes by regulators, and a backlash from actors also will add up.

The Terrorists of Tomorrow

The combination of physical and electronic attacks is likely to be a growing trend in 2015, predicted Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.

“You can’t address this kind of threat by just beefing up ops and security,” he told TechNewsWorld. “You have to better integrate efforts so a blended attack like this can be met with a better blended response.”

Security products will combine SIEM (security information and event management) and physical security with cybersecurity and IT, Enderle said.

The Need for Change

Sony “has to morph their business model to address their security,” Jim McGregor, principal analyst at Tirias Research, told TechNewsWorld.

The history of attacks against Sony suggests this latest hack might have been expected. In 2011, hackers hit the company’s Indonesian music site, its Thailand site, one of its sweepstakes sites, a Sony service provider, Sony BMG Greece, Sony Ericsson Mobile Canada and Sony’s Netherlands site — all within the space of a few weeks. They also compromised 1 million user accounts.

In all, Sony suffered about 20 security incidents within the space of a few months, with different business units being targeted.

“In today’s world,” said McGregor, “people have turned to hacking as a way of showing their discontent instead of just boycotting a company or its products.”

Richard Adhikari

Richard Adhikari has written about high-tech for leading industry publications since the 1990s and wonders where it's all leading to. Will implanted RFID chips in humans be the Mark of the Beast? Will nanotech solve our coming food crisis? Does Sturgeon's Law still hold true? You can connect with Richard on Google+.

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