What can we learn from the Sony hack?

Sony Pictures Studios water tower in the clouds above Culver City, CA.

A lot of Sony Pictures Entertainment critics have emerged in the last few days since the Sony hack, perhaps looking for a day in the sunlight of the current newscycle. While this may be a fun pastime or career move, I think we can learn more important lessons form the attack. As someone who has worked with SPE on their technology track a number of people have asked me my opinion on the subject, so let’s blog!

About 8 years ago I was tech lead of Wysiwyg Films, one of the first film and TV aggregation companies, gathering rights to distribute content to online platforms. Most of those platforms do not exist anymore: they have merged, been bought, shut down rebranded and IPO’d. Who has heard of Joost or Babelgum? But you probably know Netflix and CinemaNow. We were early in the game.

So, sitting on a panel in Cannes with execs from a number of studios including Universal and Sony Pictures. The Q&A session turned to the most frequently debated topic of the time: was the internet going to replace all the traditional distribution channels. Looking back it seems inevitable to everyone, however, incredibly in 2006 almost everyone on the panel insisted that BluRay was the way of the future. We actually had an exec call internet video “a fad”. I remember being the lone voice on the panel in support of the internet video future. I advocated that whichever Hollywood studio recognised that they were not a movie company or even a movie distribution company anymore, but that they were a tech company that makes content, they would win out. To be fair there were a lot of supporters of this point of view in the crowd, but not on the panel itself.

Cross cut to today, YouTube exists, Disney bought Maker Studios, everyone has invested in Fullscreen, Time Warner has reorganised their digital organisations about 3 times in as many years. All studios know that they have to embrace tech as much as possible and as quickly as possible to survive the imminent threat from content distributors who have started producing, such as YouTube, Netflix and Amazon.

So back to Sony. SPE  recognised the need for tech to take centre stage pretty early on with the creation of their Sony Pictures Technologies division. They have invested in many platforms, worked to bridge their Interactive with Technology and Entertainment; and launched a plethora of initiatives. They began this very difficult transition really early. They have had many programmes and many millions put into making the transformation into a tech-based media company. And I’m proud to have contributed in some way to those initiatives. And, you know what? A company in transition has vulnerabilities. Someone took advantage of that vulnerability and is exploiting it to its fullest. Instead of condemning the company, I’ll just applaud them on getting in the game early.

Only one simple lesson to learn from all this: IT departments needs to use the knowledge gathered from this attack to make all networks more secure. The more Sony can reveal what happened is the more all companies can make sure it does not happen in the same way again, to anyone. Not the most glamorous lesson, but a good one.

 

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cauri runs rhubarb studios, a technology incubator in downtown Los Angeles. He is instructor fellow for product management and user experience at General Assembly; he also designed the curriculum and teaches at General Assembly product management. cauri loves technology and all the good things it mens for the future.