The FBI is helping Sony Pictures investigate the online leak of some of its current crop of top films, including the Brad Pitt war drama Fury, Mike Leigh’s Mr Turner and the forthcoming Annie remake starring Jamie Foxx and Cameron Diaz.
The hack, which has been perpetrated by a group calling themselves #GOP, or Guardians of Peace, comes as Sony prepares to release The Interview, a comedy starring Seth Rogen and James Franco as journalists recruited by the CIA to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong-un when they are granted an interview with him.
Due for release on Christmas Day, the film has gone down badly in North Korea and was first denounced on the state controlled Uriminzokkiri website which said: “The cheekiness to show this conspiracy movie, which is comprised of utter distortions of the truth and absurd imaginations, is an evil act of provocation against our highly dignified republic and an insult against our righteous people.
“The trashy film-makers, who, won over by a few dollars thrown to them by conspirators, have compromised the dignity and conscience of film-making and dared to produce and direct such a film. They must be subject to our stern punishment.”
The Interview has also been strongly condemned by North Korea’s UN ambassador Ja Song Nam, who called it “the most undisguised sponsoring of terrorism as well as an act of war”.
Confirming its involvement in the investigation, the FBI said in a statement: “The targeting of public and private sector computer networks remains a significant threat, and the FBI will continue to identify, pursue and defeat individuals and groups who pose a threat in cyberspace.”
Sony has also hired private security firm FireEye to investigate the hack which experts have said deployed similar tools to those used in hacks on South Korean TV stations that were blamed on North Korea.
The attacks include the hacking of Sony Twitter accounts and the leak of a spreadsheet purporting to show the salaries of 17 top Sony executives who earn more than $1m a year has also found its way onto the internet.
But the biggest potential blow to the company could easily come in the form of a reduction in expected box office and DVD-sales takings.
Fury has been released in cinemas but not yet on DVD while Annie is due on the big screen on 19th December. Mr Turner, which stars Timothy Spall as the 19th century British painter JMW Turner, has already been released in the UK but not the US.