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Hackers are threatening the way Hollywood does business

Experts say the industry is more vulnerable because of the long chain of workers in post-production

Gerry Smith | Bloomberg 

Cyber crime
Representative Image

And now,

While the 2014 hacking at Pictures pushed giants to take computer security more seriously, recent incidents have exposed weaknesses throughout Hollywood’s food chain. Last week, as investigated a cyberattack on its own systems, an unaired episode of its hit show Game of Thrones appeared online following an unrelated breach at a pay-TV partner in India. In April, when 10 episodes of Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black leaked, the incident was traced to a contractor.

Cybercrime is a growing problem for many industries, but is especially vulnerable because of the long chain of people who work on a show or movie in post-production, experts say. Studios rely on an army of freelancers for everything from special effects to musical scores, creating a vast network of targets for hackers. Bringing those workers in-house is an option but would be expensive and could limit the talent studios can tap.

requires employees to have two-factor authentication and strong passwords for their computers. They also undergo security awareness training. But the company works with many post-production freelancers that handle sensitive information on personal email accounts and personal devices, raising security concerns, according to a former employee who asked not to be identified.

is still investigating how hackers broke into its computer system. They stole episodes of Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm and Ballers, a person familiar with the matter said. They also stole an executive’s emails and a summary of an unaired episode of Game of Thrones, according to Variety.

After receiving a ransom demand, an executive emailed the hacker on July 27 offering $250,000 as payment for finding a security flaw, according to a copy of the message obtained by Bloomberg. asked the hacker to extend the deadline for a week while the company arranged a payment in bitcoin. That was a stalling effort, according to a person with knowledge of the matter. Variety reported on the email earlier.

The hackers don’t appear to have breached the company’s entire email system, CEO Richard Plepler told staff last week. The network, owned by Time Warner, declined to make any additional comment.

For Hollywood, hackers are threatening both reputations and businesses. A stolen movie that appears online before appearing in theatres loses 19 per cent of its box-office revenue on average compared with films that are pirated after they’re released, according to a study by professors at University of Maryland and Carnegie Mellon University. People may not be willing to subscribe to or if they can watch their favourite shows and online for free.

What’s more, the wave of attacks is forcing media executives to confront a thorny question: Should they pay ransoms to hackers to get their content back? The FBI says that’s always a bad idea. “We believe it perpetuates the crime in general,” FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said.

There’s also no guarantee paying the ransom will work. In April, refused to pay a hacker who stole unreleased episodes of Orange Is the New Black. Larson Studios, which worked with Netflix, told Variety it paid the ransom, about $50,000, in bitcoin. The hacker, who went by the name TheDarkOverlord, dumped the stolen episodes online anyway. Larson Studios didn’t respond to a request for comment, while a official said only that the company is “constantly working to improve our security.”

Sony, meanwhile, has learned from the attack. Michael Lynton, former CEO of Entertainment, started transferring emails off his computer every 10 days. “To me, that’s the solution,” Lynton said at event hosted by Lerer Hippeau Ventures in May. “Put it in a drawer and lock the drawer.”