Crisis PR, North Korea and Sony

One of the biggest crisis communications stories of 2014 has to be the hacking of Sony Entertainment Group and its subsequent shelving of the moving “The Interview.”

Sony, the FBI and White House have placed the blame on North Korea, which is the obvious culprit.  The DPRK said from the very beginning they would not tolerate such a movie, and they apparently have made good on their threat.

This has to be the ultimate cyber crisis PR situation.  The hackers got deep into Sony without passing through security.  They obtained and then released for the world to see thousands of confidential emails, the social security numbers of 47,000 employees, their health information and five unreleased movies as well.

With more threats on the horizon, Sony caved and gave in to the demands.  They blamed the theater owners who said they would not show the movie.  But in reality, Sony had to be relieved they had them to blame.  And why not.  They gave them permission to back out, which is the same as asking them to.

President Obama said what Sony did was a mistake.  He said they should not have given in to “cyber terrorism” or as he put it, “cyber vandalism.”  He said he would have called the theater owners and asked “what’s up.”  Of course, its easy to say that now after the movie was killed.  Nobody heard that offer during the intensity of the crisis.

This will and has cost Sony tens of millions of dollars and perhaps heads will roll.  Sony Corp. in Japan can’t be happy this happened, especially since they were worried about the movie from day one.  But more is at stake here than Sony’s bottom line or the company’s reputation.

This episode illustrates just how easy it is attack a corporate entity just by sitting in front of a computer screen.  In the pre-internet age, companies would have to beat competition by producing a better product.  Now, they can not only beat a company, they can virtually destroy it all from the comfort of their laptops.

This is such a big story because it clearly shows the vulnerability of corporations and government entities to cyber attack.  If hackers can get into Sony’s computers, they most certainly can get into government systems that control our power grids, water systems, banking systems and even our defense department.

Computers and the internet are wonderful inventions.  They have dramatically changed our lives.  But at the same time they have become our addiction.  Our reliance on our computers, tablets and smart phones makes life easier, faster and often more fun.  But at the same time, when this technology is taken away or destroyed, our lives can come crumbling down.

If there are people smart enough to hack into computer systems (and many live right here in the U.S.) there have to be people smart enough to prevent hacking.  We all know it’s not easy.  Too many safeguards to keep people out also tend to keep out people we want to hear from.  But it’s a lesson we all must learn from.

As they say, “Hollywood is the only place where your friends stab you in the front.”