Hollywood’s Cloud leaks: Why Westeros isn’t as safe as it seems

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This week, the world faced Armageddon thanks to the actions of one angry American with a point to prove.

No, not Mr Trump – though exactly how the excited North Korea situation pans out is anyone’s guess – but a man, or group of people, known only as “Mr Smith”.

Mr Smith posted the latest in a series of leaks from popular cable service HBO, the makers of seminal TV shows like Westworld, The Sopranos and, of course, the cultural juggernaut of Game of Thrones.

Not only did the hackers dump what appear to be recordings of and scripts from five episodes of the dragon-rousing show, but also ripped a huge volume of internal documents, including a month’s worth of email from the account of Leslie Cohen, HBO’s president for film programming.

To prevent the leak, Mr Smith directed a video to HBO demanding their “6 month salary in bitcoin”, which they later implied was at least $6 million – almost as good a rate as a Premier League footballer.

Sony’s woes

Not that this is the first time a TV channel has been targeted, or that this blogger has had their favourite TV show ruined.

In April, a hacker group called The Dark Overlord – sounds like a Game of Thrones character – leaked episodes of Netflix’s Orange is the New Black via a third-party production company, Larson Studios. The hackers made 10 unreleased episodes of the show available to pirates after Netflix declined to pay a ransom.

Both these attacks follow the high-profile hack of Sony Pictures Entertainment in 2014, which caused an estimated $35 million in losses and almost ruined the second Amazing Spider-Man film. Except it was rubbish to start with.

Sony’s solution at the time was to downgrade their operations by about a decade, using personal systems to trade emails and create documents, and bike messengers, fax machines and in-person meetings were all reinstated.

In an increasingly digital world, that strategy will not fly for much longer. Hollywood’s entertainment moneybags need a way to keep their incredibly valuable – and highly sought-after – products safe from hackers.

Securing movies

Cue Microsoft, who earlier this month demonstrated how their Azure cloud computing platform is making it tougher for hackers to gain access.

At a computer graphics conference in LA, the tech giant outlined how its different cloud-based programmes could co-ordinate to deploy, for example, a secure place to render all the fire-breathing lizards you might need for next season’s episodes.

Microsoft’s senior director of Azure, Alice Rison, told attendees that her platform allowed for the use of tools like 3D graphics rendering program Blender alongside Azure’s security services, including Active Directory, encryption tool Key Vault and job scheduler Batch, and thereby create a “secure render farm”.

Rison also rattled off a list of entertainment industry certifications that had been awarded to Azure, claiming it was the first public cloud platform to be certified by the Content Delivery and Security Association to comply with its security standards, as well as recognition from MPAA and UK group the Federation Against Copyright Theft.

Dragon security even Daenerys would be jealous of, then. But it highlights an interesting problem that Hollywood – and the wider entertainment industry – has been grappling with of late; the question of how to prevent cyber-savvy piracy when you start delivering content to an increasingly tech-savvy audience.

Piraters have been pirating for years, now, with websites like thepiratebay and more shady distribution networks hardly unknown quantities in that time.

Unless Hollywood studios are keen on losing millions of dollars and viewers – and the latest cinema circulation figures do not make for good reading here – then they need to re-approach the way they look at online security. Particularly in an environment where an increasing proportion of large companies’ computing power is outsourced, on the cloud or otherwise, there must be scope for a solution that can keep their expensive product as safe as possible.




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