Eight lessons from the Sony Pictures hack

Marvel Studios tried to make a deal with Sony Pictures to get the character of Spider-Man into its Captain America; Civil War film.
Marvel Studios tried to make a deal with Sony Pictures to get the character of Spider-Man into its Captain America; Civil War film.

While movie giant Sony Pictures Entertainment is dealing with one of the biggest known corporate-hacking incidents to date, the rest of the world is learning.

A group calling itself GOP, or The Guardians Of Peace, hacked its way into the company's computer systems, stole gigabytes worth of files, then sent them to journalists unleashing a number of subsequent articles.

In an email to staff, Sony chiefs Michael Lynton and Amy Pascal said employeesneeded to assume that information about themmight now be in the hacking group's hands.

"While we would hope that common decency might prevent disclosure, we of course cannot assume that," they said.

So what have we learned from all of the leaked documents?

Below we highlight seven of the most interesting things revealed so far.

1. Two tigers cost more to appear in a film than a cameo from Beyonce and Jay-Z

Among the leaked documentswas a 210-page budget file for Sony's upcoming movie The Interview.

It reveals, according to news website Fusion, Beyoncé and Jay-Zwere paid US$10,000 each and given first-class plane tickets for cameo appearances.

The budget also reveals two tigers were hiredat a cost of almost US$74,000, which included a veterinarian, trainers and accommodation for the tigers.

2. Staff store passwords in unencrypted spreadsheets and documents

The hackers released a folder with all the documents they could find with the term "password" (seen here in a screen shot). It includedthe login credentials for a bunch of things, including high-profile company Twitter and YouTube accounts.

This shows why password managers, such as 1Password and LastPass, which encrypt passwords, are worth investing in. If you use a strong master password, this can prevent hackers from easily accessing your passwords.

3. Celebrities use bad-ass aliases

Checking into a hotel or booking a car for a celebrity can set off alarm bells. Imagine rocking up to an airport and seeing your actual name appear on a placard being held up by a chaperone. The media would be waiting next to them until you came off the plane.

So to avoid this, secret aliases are used by actors and actresses to check into hotels and book car services.

Fusion has published a complete list of the names some celebrities have used. Expect them tochange.

Here are just a few: Tom Hanks goes by "Harry Lauder" and "Johnny Madrid"; Sarah Michelle Gellar goes by "Neely O'Hara"; Tobey Maguire goes by "Neil Deep"; Natalie Portman goes by "Laura Brown" and Rob Schneider goes by "Nazzo Good".

4. Seinfeld still makes Sony a lot of money

According to documents reviewed by social news website Mashable, Sony's three-year syndication deal forSeinfeld reruns by more than 100 US affiliates will net the company US$18.5 million.

The release of this information, right down to how much each TV station is paying, is likely to weaken future deals.

5. Medical records of stars were stored in unencrypted spreadsheets

According to Risk Based Security's analysis, some files contain thousands of social security numbers, as well as names, contact details, phone numbers, dates of birth and email addresses.

Executive salaries, medical plans, dental plans,and copies of passport information and receipts for travel are also in there.

Sony has now paid for an identity and fraud protection service to protect staff. 

6. Artists are subject to popularity polls

When making casting decisions, Sony conducts polls to figure out how "aware" different markets are of its stars.

In one spreadsheet published by Fusion, Will Ferrell is listed as having 64 per cent average awareness in 10 key overseas markets, while Tina Fey gets only 35 per cent.

The two artists have their highest awareness rating in Australia, with 94 per cent knowing Ferrell and 62 per cent Fey.

7. Sony Pictures is trying its hardest to remove stolen content online

Some people have noticed search results on Google appear to be sanitised when searching for the stolen content.

This appears to have been done via DMCA takedown notices sent  to Google by Sony Pictures. Sony isn't trying to get news stories removed though, only links to the stolen files.

As part of the hack, it was also revealed the company employs 11 people to do IT security (excluding external contractors).

8. Spider-Man won't be joining The Avengers any time soon

Sony owns the film rights to Marvel Comics' Spider-Man character, a situation that Marvel has been trying to rectify as it it increases its blockbuster power following the hugely successful Avengers series of films and the somewhat lackluster performance of Sony's recent Spider-Man reboot series featuring Andrew Garfield.

One of the latest leaks has revealed that Marvel tried to make a deal with Sony to fund a new trilogy of Spider-Man films on the condition the character be allowed to appear in Marvel's forthcoming Captain Ameria: Civil War film, The Wall Street Journal reports.

An October 30 email from Sony president Doug Belgrad outlines the Marvel proposal, with The Wall Street Journal reporting that talks between the two studios eventually broke down, likely over Sony's desire to retain creative control of the character.

Fairfax Media Australia