Summit: Hacking a huge threat to biz

Content protection experts warn of vulnerabilities

As much as industry security experts are expressing worry over the evolving nature of piracy, they are expressing genuine alarm over cyber threat, or the hacking into computer systems with the potential for billions of dollars in losses.

Those views were expressed, again and again, at Thursday’s Content Protection Summit at the Universal Hilton. The conference was produced by Variety and the Content Delivery & Security Assn.

Front and center on the minds of those in attendance was an attack perpetrated in April against Sony’s PlayStation Network. A research firm estimated that it may in the end cost the company an estimated $24 billion. Although that may be highly inflated, it shows how much a security break can cost major media and entertainment companies.

“The PlayStation hack changed everything and brought piracy as a priority right to the forefront for many CEOs,” said Richard Atkinson, chairman of the conference.

Also cited was the infiltration of PBS.org in May, in which hackers manipulated the website with a fake story suggesting the rapper Tupac Shakur was still alive.

Electronic Arts chief information security officer Spencer Mott noted that the attackers are often just teenagers whose motives for hacking into systems aren’t entirely clear.

Another relatively new wrinkle on protecting against hackers was underlined by Aaron Kornblum, director of security policy for Microsoft’s interactive entertainment division. He cited the recent example of Xbox Live’s expansion of content partners who offer authenticated access to their programming. Kornblum called on both sides of such partnerships to be careful about how they coordinate integration of their systems lest they leave a backdoor open.

The increasing sophistication of digital content platforms like Netflix or Hulu bring new challenges to content protection as well, according to Chris Carey, former executive VP of worldwide technical operations at Paramount Pictures. Recommendation engines and integrations with social-media platforms like Facebook make vulnerable whole new layers of consumer data about subscriber behavior.

“All of that is going to change all the security considerations around it and it’s something we’re really going to have to think about,” said Carey.

The conference comes as Hollywood studios, unions and record labels are lobbying Congress for an anti-piracy bill aimed at so-called rogue websites by cutting off support from Internet providers, search engines, payment processors and ad networks. It reflects the desire among the MPAA and the RIAA to combat piracy by going after the source of it, after largely abandoning efforts to go after individual consumers.

But that has not stopped independent producers from pursuing their own action against individuals who illegally obtain movies online via peer-to-peer networks. “The Hurt Locker” producer Nicolas Chartier, one of the conference keynoters, has teamed with a Virginia law firm to pursue lawsuits against some 25,000 people.

“For me, the problem is not all the security things, the problem is education,” said Chartier, adding that the publicity generated by his lawsuits has helped deter further piracy of “Hurt Locker.”

He’s gotten blowback — one irate viewer send him an email saying, “I will never again download a movie from you” — but Chartier emphasized that PR is beside the point when the goal should be protecting copyrighted content. It’s especially of concern to independent filmmakers, as studios and financiers will want to take fewer risks portion of their returns will be lost to piracy.

He also challenged the notion that one reason piracy is rampant is that the industry has not offered enough low-cost alternatives. “The people who say it is too expensive will still pay $50 on a videogame,” he said, noting that until recently vidgames had been better protected from copyright theft than movies and TV shows.

Also keynoting was Nu Image’s Avi Lerner, who said that he has talked to lawmakers but sees little sense of urgency and a lack of action from Washington. “They are sleeping,” he said. “They do so little.” He too has pursued suits against individuals who shared illegal copies of “The Expendables.”

Lerner admitted that he holds a more controversial view of piracy, posting that the major studios have simply factored it in to their release plans so that when it comes down to it, they really don’t want to stop it.