The Sony hack is unprecedented—and the entire corporate world should take note

This post has been updated.

So it’s official: Sony has pulled The Interview from its scheduled release on Christmas Day.

The five biggest theater chains in the US (AMC Theaters, Regal Theaters, Cinemark, Carmike Cinemas, and Cineplex Entertainment) had already said earlier today they wouldn’t show the stricken comedy, which is about a fictional attempt to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. And Sony had already canceled this week’s premiere in New York after telling theater owners they wouldn’t be violating their agreements with the studio if they didn’t air it.

But the decision to formally pull the film is still hugely significant because the hackers are getting what they wanted.

Of course, all of this follows a dramatic escalation yesterday of the hacking scandal that has ravaged Sony for the better part of the past month. Yesterday the purported hackers, who call themselves the Guardians of Peace, posted a chilling message to the file sharing site Pastebin, threatening moviegoers and warning them not to attend the movie.

That is no longer a possibility, in the US at least. (It is not clear what will happen in international markets. Sony did not respond to an enquiry from Quartz and only refers to the US in its release.)

Sony’s US listing and shares in the big theater chains actually increased today. Presumably, investors are relieved that a potentially disastrous release of the film is not going ahead. But The Wrap has estimated Sony could face a $100 million hit as a result of it being withdrawn.

There is still some conjecture as to whether it was in fact the North Korean state, or some other actor, who has orchestrated what is one of the most embarrassing cyber attacks against a business, ever. (Both CNN and NBC, citing unnamed sources, reported late today that US officials had linked the hackers to North Korea.)

In any case, what is undeniable is the fact that the hackers have succeeded in damaging Sony and getting a movie withdrawn.

The real worry is that the Sony attack spurs more cyber espionage and more threats against companies. If boards and CEOs aren’t urgently reassessing their security arrangements then they are doing their employees, customers, and shareholders a huge disservice.

Update 8:05pm ET: Sony has confirmed it has “no further release plans for the film,” which rules out any online, on-demand home viewing, for the time being.

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