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Hollywood is Becoming the Target of Cyber Criminals

Hollywood has long been a victim of illegal hacking and piracy. More recently, Hollywood is increasingly becoming the main target of cyber criminals. Entertainment companies have an especially hard time securing data because so many companies, including special effects specialists and marketing firms, are involved in production and post-production.

The most recent cyberattack against HBO and its biggest series “Game of Thrones” is a reminder that Hollywood remains a vulnerable target for online pillagers. For cybercriminals, there is no better prize than the hottest show on television or the biggest movie in theaters. The hackers who took credit for attacking HBO say they have stolen and leaked a trove of HBO data onto the Web, including a script for an upcoming episode of “Game of Thrones,” as well as video of new episodes of shows such as “Ballers,” “Insecure” and “Room 104.” And, they say, there’s more to come.

According to data from piracy monitoring firm MUSO, the Season 7 premiere of “Game of Thrones” was pirated 90 million times, mostly from unauthorized streaming portals. In 2015, the first four episodes of “Game of Thrones” Season 5 were leaked to file-sharing sites a day before the first one aired. Because TV dramas such as “Game of Thrones” are made for the public and analyzed and discussed weekly online, they are highly desirable for cybercriminals.

Robert Braun, partner, Jeffer Mangels Butler & Mitchell, who also co-chairs the firm's cybersecurity and privacy group, recently sat down with Inside Counsel to discuss why Hollywood is so attractive to cyber criminals and the growing risk for this kind of theft today. 

First of all, the entertainment industry is perceived as a “soft” target - that comes from the fact that there are many players involved in any production, and that many of those players have access to key systems. Once a hacker can penetrate one set of credentials, they have the keys to seek others, according to Braun. Not to mention, the parties are not from a single entity; they originate from many firms – production houses, independent distributors, service providers, etc. – who have varying degrees of security. “This makes it very difficult to discipline the parties,” he said.  

In addition, it is typically recognized that the systems in the entertainment industry are old - many run on older operating systems that are easier to infiltrate. And, many hackers seek high profile targets, and the entertainment industry, particularly productions like Game of Thrones, is very high profile and guaranteed to generate good publicity for the hacker. 

He said, “In the same way that an actor wants to win an award for his or her work, a hacker wants to be recognized.”

The investigation of HBO's Game of Thrones is still in the early stages, and there have been follow-on attacks. But, there are a few key elements to know, per Braun. First, a tremendous amount of data was stolen – 1.5 terabytes. It wasn’t just Game of Thrones - it included Ballers and other popular shows as well. On the other hand, the Sony hack in 2014 was 200 gigabytes, one-seventh the size. Second, it’s likely that the theft either took advantage of older, less secure operating systems, or by targeting senior executives, not only through their work systems, but through home systems, which may not be as well protected.

So, why is Hollywood so attractive to cyber criminals? 

“The industry is perceived as a ‘soft’ target,” he said. “There are many players involved in any production, and many of those players have access to key systems. Once a hacker is able to penetrate one set of credentials, the hacker has the keys to seek others.”

Also, a variety of different firms access the data; production houses, accountants, financial institutions, independent distributors, service providers, and others have varying degrees of access and  of security.  And, entertainment firms run many different systems, so there is the possibility of inadequate supervision, particularly for older, legacy systems – making infiltration easier. 

“The fact that the HBO hackers did not demand ransom suggests that the attack may have been an attempt to gain recognition from others in the hacking community,” Braun explained. “This theory is buttressed by the fact that no group has claimed responsibility, and the data has been released piecemeal, maximizing news coverage.”

It is also possible that this is a revenge hack, according to Braun. There may be an employee or former employee with a grievance, or it may be a statement against the company's crackdown on the piracy of Game of Thrones. There is also the possibility of industrial espionage. The data stolen from HBO, which may also likely include pre-production and financial information, could be a potential treasure trove for the network's rivals.

“This should be a wakeup call to implement best practices and create a culture of security and privacy.”

Braun shared some best practices that other networks in Hollywood can use to protect themselves from hackers. “Update and patch systems, require effective passwords, limit access from outside the system, particularly mobile access,” he said. “The most important step, however, is to create a culture of privacy and security; regardless of the technical protections, individuals with access are the most likely point of weakness, and only the individual can prevent a hacker from gaining entry on their credentials.”

Contributing Author

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Amanda Ciccatelli

Amanda G. Ciccatelli is a Freelance Journalist for InsideCounsel, where she covers intellectual property, legal technology, patent litigation, cybersecurity, innovation, and more. She earned a B.A....

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