September 23, 2019

How to hack the Sony hackers

I know what I’m doing on Christmas Day: First Chinese food, then “The Interview.”

I’ll be eating Chinese food on Christmas because I’m a Jew, and that’s tradition.

Then I’m going to go to a theater to watch “The Interview” because I’m an American, and that’s patriotism.

That’s right, patriotism.

Substantial evidence points to the North Korean regime, or people working for the regime, as the ones who attacked Sony’s computer system. North Korea is upset because Sony Pictures Entertainment made the Seth Rogen comedy about two shallow, inexperienced TV journalists who land an interview with North Korean ruler Kim Jong-un and are tasked by the CIA with assassinating him. The regime repeatedly warned Sony not to release the movie and has threatened severe consequences if it does. On Dec. 16, the Guardians of Peace hacking group further threatened to carry out 9/11-style attacks on theaters that screen the movie.

In the media’s mostly salacious coverage of the Sony computer hacking, the focus has been on everything but the perpetrators. How can Sony have let this happen? How can producers say such nasty things? Somehow the criminal invasion of people’s private lives and the theft and destruction of their property has morphed into a story about Hollywood’s behavior. A foreign government decides to invade America through its computers and damage the lives and livelihood of thousands of workers, and our response is, “Shame on that Amy Pascal.”  Talk about letting the terrorists win.

I don’t say that glibly. Hacking Sony is an attack on America. If North Korea gets away with it — even the damage already done to the company and private individuals, let alone the threat of what could happen next week — then all the systems and companies we rely upon are vulnerable.

Children photographed in an orphanage in North Korea during the 1997 famine. Photo by Justin Kilcullen, former director of Trócaire.

I can understand why Americans don’t see the story that way, yet. The media instantly made this about money, celebrity and race. Stories about Angelina Jolie get more clicks than those about North Korean death camps. And, anyway, what can we do about a cruel, distant and nuclear-armed regime?

Here’s what we can do: We can make sure the hacking backfires. We can see the movie, and we can shame North Korea. 

Good, bad, stupid, brilliant — I don’t know, and I don’t care — we need to buy tickets and go see “The Interview.” A huge opening-week box office will send just the right message to any regime that thinks hacking is a way to get what it wants. 

Our media also needs to match every bit of information given us by the hackers with massive amounts of information about North Korea. Their hacking moment must become our teaching moment.

How many Americans are aware of the death camps that the regime operates throughout its country?  An estimated 200,000 North Korean political prisoners are imprisoned in the country’s gulag, a system of slave camps of unspeakable cruelty. The Jewish Journal’s Jan. 24, 2014, cover story on these concentration camps had a simple title, “Holocaust in North Korea,” because that’s exactly what Kim Jong-un is perpetrating. Anyone whose words or behavior veers from the supreme leader’s can be a victim. According to dictatorial fiat, inmates aren’t the only ones to suffer — their children and grandchildren born in the camps remain there for their entire lives — punishments are meted out until the third generation.

Meanwhile, starvation is rampant — both inside and outside the camps. A country that spends enough resources to be able to hack into its enemies’ sophisticated computer systems can’t be bothered to provide its children lunch. 

This is what the press needs to disseminate. There are photos to be displayed, as well as links to satellite images of the actual camps. A massive crime is being perpetrated against the people of North Korea, and the hacking scandal is our moment to make sure the world sees it. 

“Those who control the narrative control the nation,” Maajid Nawaz, a former Islamic extremist, wrote in his 2013 book, “Radical: My Journal Out of Islamist Extremism” (Lyons Press).

“The Interview” so threatens the North Korean regime because it is well aware of the power of a movie to cement its image. Now Kim Jong-un is lashing out at the people brave enough, and free enough, to tell stories the way they want.   Radio pioneer Howard Stern, who knows a thing or two about free speech, said it most clearly on his Sirius show this week: “The attack on Sony is an attack on Amertica.”

The real focus, the relentless focus, has to be on punishing the perpetrators. The hackers have warned that those who go see “The Interview” will suffer a “bitter fate.”  Unfortunately, at least two theatre chains have already buckled under their threats and have decided not to screen the movie.  But wherever it plays at a theatre near me, I'm going.  It's as true with hacking as it is with any other form of terror:   the most bitter fate awaits those who give into it.

Rob Eshman is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. E-mail him at You can follow him on Twitter @foodaism.