What IT Managers Can Learn From The Sony Hacking Scandal

by drjim on January 21, 2016

The Interview movie may have caused Sony to be hacked

The Interview movie may have caused Sony to be hacked
Image Credit: IMP Awards

What would you do if your company’s electronic network defenses were breached by outsiders? We spend a lot of time and effort and use our IT manager skills as part of every project that our teams implement in order to make sure that things like this don’t happen. However, there is always the possibility that the bad guys are going to find a way in. We need to spend some time thinking about just exactly what we would do if that would happen. Our IT manager training tells us that an important part of that planning includes identifying who we might contact and what we would expect them to do for us.

Just Exactly What Happened When Sony Got Hacked?

Before we can determine what the IT managers at Sony did when they got hacked and if it was right or wrong, first we need to make sure that we understand just exactly what happened. It all started when Sony discovered that they had been hacked on November 24, 2014. One of the first things that they then did was to call the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

At Sony, their senior management team was very upset that they had been hacked. However, the government’s response was more measured. By the government’s criteria, this was not a big deal. There was no indication that customer information or national security information had been taken. However, over the next few days as a very pubic campaign to use the information that had been taken in order to coerce and shame Sony took root, the government became more interested. This all culminated in an anonymous threat that was issued on December 16, 2014, in which movie theaters who played Sony’s “The Interview” movie were threatened. The government informed the movie theater chains that they had not heard of this threat before and therefore they could not advise them on what should be done. The theater owners ended up deciding to not display the movie because of the threat.

The FBI was the lead investigative agency on the case. The FBI and Homeland Security issued a law-enforcement bulletin that said that there was no credible evidence of a plot to attack theaters. Privately, the FBI told theater owners that they simply didn’t know if the hackers had the ability to attack theaters. The end result of this confusion was that the theater owners decided to cancel showing the move. When Sony learned of the theater owner’s decision, they took things a step further and canceled the release of the movie.

Were Mistakes Made?

All of this action leads to the inevitable question, were mistakes made? The answer is “yes”. However, there is plenty of blame to go around. One of the first mistakes is that both sides, the FBI and Sony, were viewing the same event differently. Sony believed that this was a major event that was threatening its existence as an international company. However, by all of the criteria that it used to measure the severity of a hacking event, the U.S. government didn’t see things that way.

Another key problem had to do with the flow of information between Sony’s IT manager and the FBI. The FBI chose to withhold most of the information that it learned about the source of the hacking. The agency believes that confidentiality is standard procedure during the investigation of security-breech investigations. Likewise, the FBI agents who were working on the case had not been trained to tell Sony what they needed to do now that they had been hacked. What this meant is that as Sony struggled to determine if they should pull the film, the FBI was unable to offer them any advice.

A key contributor to the problems that the Sony IT managers faced was the simple fact that in Washington, computer-security issues are split among many different agencies. The players include the FBI, Homeland Security, the Secret Service, and various intelligence agencies. The role that any organization is currently playing may change based on where the investigation currently is at. The fact that this case had such a high public profile did not help to make the internal communications any easier.

Over at Sony, the IT managers were very frustrated with how things had turned out. They had wanted the U.S. government to come out and blame North Korea for the hacking scandal before they had had to cancel releasing the film. Within the government, there was a great deal of discussion about just exactly how much to say. There were many parties who didn’t want to say too much for fear of revealing too much about the investigation at an early stage. One of the outcomes of this event is that the government now believes that it has to do a better job of helping to allow information to flow both ways should another event like this ever happen again.

What All Of This Means For You

When Sony got hacked, their world got turned upside down. The bad guys had gotten past the defenses that they had put in place and got their hands on a lot of sensitive information. As IT managers we need to understand what happened and how best to respond to an event like this.

When Sony discovered that they had been hacked, they did the right thing and informed the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). However, the government was slow to react because it did not appear as though any customer information had been taken. Over time, the scope of the attack became apparent to both parties and action started to be taken. The FBI did a poor job of communicating with Sony about what they knew. Both sides now agree that they need to do a better job of allowing information to flow both ways.

If the bad guys break in at your company, you are going to be responsible for working with the authorities to determine what has happened and how big of a deal it is. You’ll need to make sure you use your IT team building skills to do a good job of clearly communicating with the officials and providing them with answers to their questions. Likewise, they will be responsible for keeping you in the loop as they learn more about what has happened. Take the time to work closely with the outside investigators and insist that they share their information with you. Don’t let a bad situation get even worse.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Management Skills™

Question For You: Do you think that you need to keep your management informed about what you tell the FBI?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

With a little luck, as an IT manager you believe that your team does good work. After all, your IT manager skills are designed to allow you to get more out of your team and the thinking is that if you get good at doing this, then you’ll be able to deliver more of what your customers are looking for. Now the big question is are you doing this? One of the best ways to find out is to take the time to search out customer complaints and learn what they are trying to tell you.

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