Do We All Need To Hire Hitmen?
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by Josh Lee
2015 Spectator Ron - The Spectator All Rights Reserved
        By now you’ve probably heard about the fiasco surrounding the upcoming film “The Interview”, James Franco and Seth Rogan’s new baby, produced by Sony Pictures. If you haven’t, here’s a real brief rundown:

        James Franco and Seth Rogan sold Sony on producing a film depicting the assassination of North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong Un. During production and talent scouting, potential participants were told that the leader would be a fictional character. Once signed on, they were clued in that in fact, the movie would depict the assassination of a sitting leader, a world first in a major production. In the film, Franco and Rogan are two American journalists sent on assignment to Pyongyang to assassinate the porky North Korean leader.

        Once details of the film started to become public and the studio began releasing trailers and teasers and the stars began giving interviews, a “hacktivist” group calling themselves the “Guardians of Peace” began delivering threats to Sony Pictures that they would face massive ramifications if they didn’t immediately shut down all production and distribution of the film. Sony didn’t and a few weeks later, an estimated one hundred terabytes of data (that’s 100,000 gigabytes or more than enough storage to hold the entire printed Library of Congress) was stolen from its servers including extensive personal information on studio employees, full-length previously released movie files, emails, and unreleased features. The hit was both massively damaging and damning to Sony. Not only did it highlight yet another company with less than impenetrable security for its digital assets, but it has set a new stage for a method of rebuttal against a company that is producing something that may be unsavory to a foreign nation.

        While it has yet to be confirmed that the attack actually came from the North, political analysts, tech security researchers, and many news outlets have pointed out, the attacks on Sony are nearly identical to the attacks on a South Korean bank targeted by the North in the past, down to the broken English, code written in Korean (English and German are the standard coding languages), and aesthetic appearance of the program on screen.

        Now, if in fact North Korea is behind the attacks on Sony Pictures (probability at 97%), we have much bigger problems than just a bunch of personal data and unreleased movies leaking onto the internet.
The attacks on Sony are as unprecedented as the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. Sure, they aren’t the first hacks to expose information or damage a company’s standing and they’re hardly the first politically motivated. But they are a huge first hit by a national government, especially that of a country that so many Americans feel is just too far away and isolated to ever be a threat. North Korea may not be able to shoot a missile over here yet, but the internet makes the world a whole lot smaller than our physical geography. With simple keystrokes, the “Guardians of Peace” have sent threats of violence comparable to 9/11 to Sony executives, news outlets, and theater chains in seconds.

        The truly terrifying aspect is that never before in history has a country been able to issue an assault on a company in such a way that it has effectively forced Sony and movie theaters to self-censor. After the four largest theater operators dropped the film from their lineups, Sony, also spooked by threats of a 9/11-esque retaliation, cancelled all press and screening and lost out on $30M (pocket change to the financial costs of the extensive damages done to the company itself). Assuming that the North is behind these attacks, this was a successful experiment for them to exert their infamous censorship on media on the United States, arguably one of the most free countries in the world without even having any political presence in the country. The attacks also prove that a digitally executed terrorist attack can in some ways be just as devastating as a physical one, if not more so.

        Technologically, this also proves to us that North Korea has infinitely more computer power than the world had estimated. Kim Jong Un rules in a country where there is one television station, cell phones are a thing of this decade, and the “internet” is really an intranet, limited to sites featuring propaganda content generated by the government. So how did a country with seemingly little technological capability execute such a massive attack? Researchers are now estimating that in addition to having one of the world’s largest militaries, Kim Jong Un also must have an elite group of advanced hackers with both the access and knowledge to carry out large-scale cyber attacks.

        Unlike other leaks in recent memory (read: Edward Snowden), even if the supreme leader himself declared full responsibility for the attack, how would we persecute him? Now that the Sony hack has proven mostly successful to date, what’s to stop them from doing it again? More importantly, how can we prevent them from doing it again? And will this influence other terrorist organizations such as ISIS to build their own cyber armies to carry out attacks?

        For potential targets, which in today’s society is basically anyone that owns a computer, the question becomes how do we protect against this? The problem with security in the cybersphere is that it doesn’t work the same way as in the physical world. In the real world, you could build a building completely out of steel with walls six feet thick and no windows and it would be impenetrable. In the cyber world, those walls would be made out of code. The unfortunate fact of life as we know it is that code as we know it can always be broken.

        Will we see companies start offering insurance to cover digital attacks the way that they cover physical damage? Would that even be a lucrative business with technology advancing so rapidly and security researchers and hackers constantly racing to beat one another at each obstacle? Can a technological loss even be covered by a monetary figure the way a building can? Losing assets such as Sony’s can sometimes be priceless. How do you put a value on losing both assets such as unreleased pictures and talent that no longer wishes to work with you?

        And what about individuals? All the employees from Sony who weren’t even working on The Interview and still had their personal data stolen and publicized. Will we have deductions on our paychecks for insurance on our digital health now too? What if your company doesn’t offer that, will you have to go and sign up for individual plans? How much will your coverage be? How much will your deductible be? How much will a hack on your life be worth?

        So maybe instead of insurance we should think about hiring hitmen. If foreign powers aren’t going to play fair, neither should we. If you kill our computers, we’ll kill you? Is that what it’s going to come to? Where is the line between the digital world and the real world drawn? And in the case of the “Guardians of Peace”, we can’t even say for certain that it was North Korea. Is the rule still innocent until proven guilty? How do you prove that North Korea is behind it when you really can’t prove anything through code? And when any hostile power has already attacked digitally and is threatening to attack physically, do we go on the defensive or offensive?

        Maybe we should take a few cues from The Interview and exact some terminal punishment on a certain rotund ruler and his regime. Oh, but wait, they’ve already declared war on us for doing it in digital fiction. God only knows what they’d do if we did it in real life. Maybe we should just sit back with the popcorn we were going to munch on during The Interview and watch what happens next in this spectacle that’s way better than the movie anyway.