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Quendrith Johnson

Quendrith Johnson is Los Angeles Correspondent covering everything happening in film in Hollywood... Well, the most interesting things, anyway.
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Digital Deeds Done Dirty: SONY Hack & Streisand Effect & JenLaw/ScarJo Nudie Theft

by Quendrith Johnson, Los Angeles Correspondent

UPDATED: SONY Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton was slated to give his “All Hands” speech* this week about the Sony Hack, whereby on or about 11/24, “hackers” opened 38,000 documents with private employee and performance data to the world via web releases on Fusion and BitTorrent, among other sites. The details of the data breach are astounding, and point to major security flaws in SONY security.

But this latest infraction, also known as the Franco-Rogen Breach based on possible repercussions from their film The Interview, is just the newest iteration of Digital Deeds Done Dirty.

The other two high profile digital debacles are: The Streisand Effect, a phenomenon whereby Barbra Streisand’s attempt to block photos of her Malibu home caused the images to go viral in the hacker world; and The JenLaw/ScarJo Nudie Theft of selfies intended for private consumption that also went viral.

While all three may appear to have little in common, they all share the widespread dissemination of private material on a massive worldwide scale. 

And the motives in all three are aimed at the entertainment industry and its figureheads, celebrities, even rank and file workers.

The SONY Hack is especially troubling because it smacks of state-sponsored skills and a kind of bravado that could be construed as an act of aggression against the US, in terms of open threats to employees (read: US citizens) in a corporate setting on US soil.

The hashtag GOP is said to stand for ‘Guardians of Peace,’ yet it is also (ironically or not) the initials of the GOP, Grand Old Party, associated with the Republican Party.

These cryptic initials are also likely a red herring, as is much of the information divulged. Did they just want salary data released, social security numbers, Deloitte accounting info, profit memos, movies before their release date leaked?

Or is there some nugget hidden in all the noise here that is their actual objective? (Not just Amy Pascal's incendiary emails on Gawker, one hopes!)

Not since Edward Snowden used a simple scraper program to outfox the NSA has the digital world had such a black eye.

These breaches and infractions are not solely the result of wunderkinds gone awry, but there is a good chance these black eyes will keep coming so long as the knowledge gap exists between decision-makers and the inner workings of the digital world.


Shame-Changers: Aaron Swartz, Kevin Mitnick, Sean Parker - How Do We Handle Native Digital Talent?

The knowledge gap between decision-makers and game-changers in the digital space could be due in part to the impact of early adapters in the Digital World who shake the foundations by virtue of their new barely quantifiable skills. It is axiomatic that the bleeding edge is a huge threat to the status quo, always.

Almost two years ago, in Jan. 2013, a brilliant early adapter named Aaron Swartz was found hanged of an apparent suicide. He is the pioneer who helped bring RSS into reality.

By all accounts, Swartz was a rare combination hacktivist/prodigy who really wanted information on JSTOR (an editorial database) and other services to be available to the public for free. Namely because many of those services were funded by tax payer dollars, according to sources familiar with the issue.

Swartz allegedly faced a 35-year prison term, a slew of indictments, and cracked under pressure.

But was this the only scenario?

Imagine if Aaron Swartz’s skills had been embraced and supported by those institutions that ultimately hounded him, possibly to death. 

RSS is the building block of serializing information across the web as we know it today, for journalists, scholars, politicians, charitable causes, marketing campaigns, and the general public.

And Aaron Swartz will again be the honored dead on Jan. 11, 2015.

Kevin Mitnick is the quintessential teen hacker who did because “he could” in the 90’s. (See movie Hackers for approximate methods.) Mitnick was so far ahead of the curve, it was like light speed on a freeway. In 1999, he was served up five years without bail for being ahead of the curve.

Nobody was sure what Kevin was doing, but assumed he needed to curb his appetite for what amounts to digital innovation. Mitnick now consults, and attends DEF CON, the convention for hackers, white hats, black hats, and normal software engineers.

Sean Parker is the boy hero who took down the music industry with a funny little program he co-founded.

Called Napster, with a funny little critter who no one assumed would devour the music world like Godzilla on Tokyo.

Parker had been arrested in high school, and despite that, managed to become a prime mover in the changing way we listen to, purchase, and appreciate music online. Then, if “The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook, A Tale of Sex. Money, Genius & Betrayal” by Ben Mezrich is anywhere near accurate, he boarded another gravy train called Facebook.

Or you can also cheat the 2009 tome by viewing its movie adapt in The Social Network with Justin Timberlake as Parker.

Should Sean Parker have been pilloried, crushed, and humiliated, or been given some guidance and lauded for his policy-setting abilities?


What If It’s All A Snow(den) Job?

Edward Snowden has been vilified to the point that he ranks up there with Tobacco as a hated entity, a so-called “Enemy of the State.” 

Yet the NSA has had to oust personnel at the highest echelon, has had to air its contradictions on ‘suspicionless surveillance’ and allegedly change policy in the wake of public hearings. Americans and all citizens of the digital world have been forced to reassess their comfort level online, treat their private information as offline assets like money in the bank. 

CitizenFour, the recently completed documentary based on Snowden’s time in Russia since he fled the country, is one attempt to convey a sense of proportion on his actions, the ramifications, and the game-change.

Is he a black hat, a gray hat, a white hat… Or just old hat at this point?


SONY Isn’t Alone

Since the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) has thrown its hat into the ring on the SONY Hack, you can imagine the comfort level of employees in the industry who will now have to be debriefed en masse and/or individually by federal agents. 

Was it one of them, a freelancer, a vendor, a third party coder brought in for VFX, a disgruntled foreign national or team of same?

As the lore goes, Swartz, when he was accused of hacking MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), was found to have simply left a laptop going in a janitor’s closet and literally scraped huge data files from the most inauspicious place on campus.

Onsite data scraping is how Snowden, over a period of months to years, amassed such a store house of information from the inner reaches of the NSA. 

The biggest breaches thus far have happened at the physical location, it seems. Hiding in plain sight, as they say. Literally riding the coattails of business as usual.

Was SONY the result of a ‘tailgater’? Tailgater is a term that describes a person or persons (either dressed to impersonate DHL/UPS/FedEx delivery or similar) who follow on the heels of employees, gain access by courtesy rather than a badge or ID, then have a free-for-all with a company’s IP/IT/Sec.

It can be as simple as a USB stick or as devastating as a darkened network or as complicated as a massive leak of sensitive internal data.


So When’s The Interview Coming Out, Or Business As Usual & The Show Must Go On

James Franco and Seth Rogen have no culpability in the mix here. And their film The Interview, to be released within a month, isn’t the flash point either. That’s like saying those Danish cartoonists were responsible for bringing down a world religion with their scribblings.

What we have here is a power play, whether from a state-sponsored angle or a lone coder or a disgruntled clutch of engineers. So the only next move in this digital cat and mouse game is not just with “Rah Rah” speeches in hands-on “All Hands” capacity, but to actually arm employees from the rank and file to the C-Level with a working knowledge of privacy practices, including the basics of email encryption, how packets travel, who Linus Torvalds is, and basic data structures.

Open Source should also be on the menu for Hollywood as well as Corporate America, in order to flesh out the debates going on within technology circles, in dev ops, for SysAdmins, for everyone now.

IT and its practitioners should be welcomed into the family by executives everywhere, after all, it's not just for fanboys anymore.

Technology and entertainment have come full circle from the earliest days in Roundhay Garden 1888 with the oldest surviving footage to 2014, when Hollywood woke up to the new technology of covering its digital assets, armed with Linux, Python, encryption, and a new “Hello World” attitude about who is manning the firewalls and plugging ports when breached.

After all, we need the algorithms.

*Lynton postponed his speech, Amy Pascal attended the premiere of The Interview with Seth Rogen, but will she be allowed to stay after the damaging email leaks? Ousting a top exec is the easy (wrong) answer.

# # #

Comments (1)

Your story picked up

Great piece of news Quendrith, got picked up in Washington DC


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About Quendrith Johnson

Johnson Quendrith

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