November 26, 2014 By Shane Schick 2 min read

Sony Pictures Entertainment may be the reluctant star of a real-life drama involving cybercriminals who reportedly hacked into its computer systems.

The Los Angeles Times reported that email, network access and other employee-facing technology was rendered useless to Sony Pictures staff earlier this week. Those logging on were greeted by a message from a group that calls itself the Guardians of Peace, which made threatening remarks about releasing information it had stolen from the company unless it received a ransom.

So far, Sony has only said it is “investigating an IT matter,” according to Help Net Security, but staff were reportedly sent home after learning that the company’s computer security had been compromised. However, a thread on the popular online forum Reddit by someone claiming to be a former Sony employee shows an image of a red skeleton with the words “Hacked by #GOP” across it. Those posting to the thread say the hack has affected logins on employee computer screens across the United States.

Although the Guardians of Peace set a deadline of Nov. 24 for its demands to be met, the precise details of what it wanted are unknown. An anonymous source told The Next Web that the attack began with a single server and may have led to private keys and financial information being stolen via a zip file.

In an email to The Verge, meanwhile, someone claiming responsibility for the attack referenced inequality at Sony Pictures and suggested insiders were also involved. The message also indicated that weak physical security may have allowed the cybercriminals to carry out the network attack with relative ease.

Cybercriminals have demanded payment or made other ultimatums before, but the victims are usually more widespread and targeted through malicious software or ransomware that makes smartphones inoperable or steals data from them. The Sony Entertainment attack is notable because its impact was far more public. As Business 2 Community showed in a post, messages blasting the company’s executives as “criminals” were posted via Twitter accounts associated with some of its films.

For chief information security officers at other large enterprises, the main takeaway might be that it doesn’t take much to infiltrate a computer system to wreak widespread havoc. No matter what happens next, far too many people have gotten a front-row seat to how much damage a small group can inflict on a high-profile company.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

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