US investigators have determined North Korea was behind a cyberattack on Sony Pictures, a US government source said, an unprecedented act that has forced the studio to cancel releasing a comedy about the fictional assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
Hackers, who said they were incensed by the film, attacked Sony Corp last month, leaking documents that drew global headlines and distributing unreleased films on the Internet.
Washington might soon officially announce that the North Korean government was behind the attack, the US government source said.
The US$44 million comedy The Interview had been set to debut on Christmas Day.
“Sony has no further release plans for the film,” a Sony spokeswoman said on Wednesday when asked whether the movie would be released later in theaters or as video on demand.
Earlier in the day, Sony canceled next week’s theatrical release, citing decisions by several theater chains to hold off showing the film.
The hacker group that broke into Sony’s computer systems had threatened attacks on theaters that planned to show it.
North Korea has denied it was behind the hacking, but security experts in Washington said it was an open secret Pyongyang was responsible.
“The North Koreans are probably tickled pink,” Center for Strategic and International Studies senior fellow Jim Lewis said. “Nobody has ever done anything this blatant in terms of political manipulation. This is a new high.”
Sony came under immediate criticism for the decision to pull the movie.
However, Sony’s shares traded as much as 5 percent higher in Tokyo yesterday as investors said there was hope the movie’s cancelation would help bring an end to the crisis.
“By not releasing the movie, they won’t be hacked again. Investors think that from here on, further damage probably won’t be done,” Myojo Asset Management cheif executive officer Makoto Kikuchi said.
“Whether that justifies a 5 percent jump in Sony’s stock, I’m not so sure,” Kikuchi said.
Macquarie Group analyst Damian Thong estimated last week, before the cancelation of The Interview, that losses from the hacking including online leaks of other movies such as Fury and Annie, would likely be about ￥10 billion (US$84.41 million).
The worst case scenario, he said, would be an impairment of ￥25 billion.
The film industry showed support for the film in various ways. Hollywood filmmakers and actors, many of them friends of The Interview stars Seth Rogen and James Franco, criticized the decision made by theaters and Sony.
Texas cinema chain Alamo Drafthouse said its Dallas-Fort Worth theater would show the puppet-comedy Team America: World Police in which a US paramilitary force try to foil a terrorist plot by late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.
The White House’s National Security Council said the US was investigating the Sony breach and would provide an update about who did it at the appropriate time.
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