A massive cache of internal Sony Pictures Entertainment e-mails and documents was posted online and made searchable Thursday by the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, including material on the company’s lobbying efforts and the budgeting of $1 million for Edward Snowden’s Russian lawyer as part of the costs for an Oliver Stone movie about the former National Security Agency contractor.
The Obama administration has said that North Korea was behind the November attack, which exposed personally identifiable information about Sony Pictures employees, sensitive internal financial data and embarrassing private e-mails between then-studio chief Amy Pascal and producer Scott Rudin.
At the time of the breach, the studio was preparing for the release of “The Interview,” a film starring Seth Rogen and James Franco that featured the violent death of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. North Korea has denied responsibility for the attack on Sony Pictures.
In an online news release Thursday, WikiLeaks said it was posting a searchable database of 30,287 documents and 173,132 e-mails from Sony Pictures in part because “the original archives, which were not searchable, were removed before the public and journalists were able to do more than scratch the surface.”
The WikiLeaks news release said the cache reveals “ties to the White House (there are almost 100 US government e-mail addresses in the archive), an ability to impact laws and policies, and connections to the US military-industrial complex.”
The news release quotes Julian Assange, the editor in chief of WikiLeaks, as saying: “This archive shows the inner workings of an influential multinational corporation.”
Assange took refuge at the Ecuadorean Embassy in London in 2012 but has agreed to be questioned in the British capital by authorities about allegations of sexual assaults in Sweden.
“It is newsworthy and at the centre of a geo-political conflict. It belongs in the public domain. WikiLeaks will ensure it stays there,” Assange said in the news release, referring to the Sony material.
Several news organizations from across the world posted stories coinciding with the release.
“The cyber-attack on Sony Pictures was a malicious criminal act, and we strongly condemn the indexing of stolen employee and other private and privileged information on WikiLeaks,” a spokesman for Sony Pictures said in a statement. “The attackers used the dissemination of stolen information to try to harm SPE and its employees, and now WikiLeaks regrettably is assisting them in that effort. We vehemently disagree with WikiLeaks’ assertion that this material belongs in the public domain and will continue to fight for the safety, security, and privacy of our company and its more than 6,000 employees.”
Not included in the WikiLeaks news release is any description of how WikiLeaks obtained access to the e-mails and documents or any indication of what proportion of the stolen Sony Pictures information is represented by the WikiLeaks archive.
The release of the e-mails and documents may provide clues to help identify the point of entry the hackers used to penetrate Sony Pictures’ networks.
The FBI has said the likely technique used was “spearphishing,” in which a hacker tries to get an unsuspecting target to click on an infected e-mail link or attachment, thus opening access to the person’s computer and then the network to which it is attached.
Among the e-mails posted by WikiLeaks is a series showing that Pascal was successfully spearphished just 42 days before Sony’s system was wrecked by a wiper malware known as Destover, which shut down computers across the company’s network and deleted terabytes of data.
The hackers’ exact entry point has yet to be publicly confirmed, but experts think hackers gained access weeks or months before the malware attack.
On Oct. 13, Pascal, then the co-chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment in Hollywood, clicked a link in an e-mail she thought had been sent by Stone. The acclaimed director was working on his next project, a film about Snowden that is being made by a rival studio.
The link in the e-mail led to a site hosted in Thailand. Shortly before 10 a.m. on Oct. 13, Pascal and other colleagues received the fake Stone e-mail.
The subject line read: “Important Message.” The e-mail said: “Attached is a document for your review. It is a secured document. Click here and log in to read the document in google docs.”
It added a postscript: “This is not a Spam Message”
Pascal tried to open the document, according to an e-mail from one of her assistants, who asked a colleague to help. “Can you please open this document for Amy? It is not working on our computers,” the assistant said.
“ok,” the colleague replied.
Hours later, Stone sent out a mass e-mail to his contacts saying his e-mail account had been compromised. “If you received a suspect e-mail from my account, please delete the message from your inbox for your own safety,” Stone’s e-mail said. “Do not download or click the link within the message.”
The Stone e-mail may not have been the critical hack, but the fact that it was opened shows the ease with which Sony Pictures’ network could have been penetrated.
Pascal did not respond to a request for comment.
Stone’s company, listed in the e-mails as Ixtlan Productions, also declined to comment.
WikiLeaks said the documents in its archive detail how Sony collected “intelligence” on rival pictures, including the $49,967,762 budget for Stone’s “Snowden.” The line-by-line budget for the film, which is in production, shows more than $7 million for actors, including $2 million for the lead actor in the Snowden role.
Some $1.7 million is budgeted for story rights, including $1 million to Snowden’s Russian attorney, Anatoly Kucherena.
Snowden’s U.S. attorney, Ben Wizner of the American Civil Liberties Union, said that Snowden was not involved in any of the negotiations to purchase the rights for his story and that the budget item is for Kucherena’s novel, “Time of the Octopus,” which recounts a philosophical conversation between a Russian lawyer and an idealistic whisteblower in a Cold War bunker in the basement of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport.
Julie Tate contributed to this report.