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Hollywood Under Cyberattack: How to Defend Against the Big Hack (Guest Column)

The Dark Overlord is threatening the content community. Time to unsheathe your lightsabers.

“The Dark Overlord,” of course, is the person or persons who took credit for stealing 10 episodes of Netflix’s “Orange Is the New Black” season five and then released them after the company rebuffed ransom demands — and more recently, leaked unaired episodes of ABC’s “Steve Harvey’s Funderdome,” obtained through the same hack. The cybercriminal has boasted of harvesting even more material from other studios.

Other hackers allegedly targeted Disney’s film unit, claiming to have obtained a major movie and threatening to release it if the studio didn’t make a ransom payment. Disney, working with the FBI, ultimately determined there was no successful hack in that case — though CEO Bob Iger said cybersecurity is a “front-burner” issue for the company.

Hacking may be decades old, yet holding hacked content hostage is a newer phenomenon. The infamous Sony hack in 2014, ascribed to the North Korean government, seems to have marked a turning point of sorts. Threats — whether via social-engineering attacks or unauthorized human intervention — are moving further up the content-handling chain and promise only to mount.

Consumers are not entirely sympathetic to the industry’s plight. Fully 32% of consumer say they watch pirated content, and 39% say they are unmoved by the potential financial damage to studios and others, according a survey commissioned by digital security tech firm Irdeto.

So what is piracy’s cost to the content community? Estimates vary widely, ranging from the $6.1 billion a year suggested by the MPAA and LEK Consulting to $20.5 billion annually in costs to the broader U.S. economy, per a MPAA-commissioned study by the Institute for Policy Innovation in 2006.

Claims about the economic impact of piracy are hotly contested. What is not in dispute is that the impact is greater the further up the supply chain piracy occurs. A single end user sharing a Netflix password costs the company $10 per month; a single download of pre-released content, such as “Orange Is the New Black,” could cost millions.

The risk is undeniable. It’s a problem studios and their partners do not need — and certainly do not need to exacerbate. What would make the problem worse? Panicking, and making bad decisions.

It has been suggested that studios and post-production houses might consider taking their video assets offline, handling them on-site via closed networks and thus reducing the option of automation. This would be an example of a bad decision — akin to the FBI working without the benefit of mobile communications.

Setting aside the increased costs, in terms of both labor and delays in getting content to market, there are a myriad of reasons offline processing might only compound security problems. Those include heightening the risk of data-entry error and introducing additional touch-points to the process that potentially increase the studio or post house’s vulnerability to an “inside job.”

Instead, the content community must think in terms of rigorous security procedures that are drummed into personnel, backed up by an audit trail that logs every person and event that touches a video asset.

Realistically, however, nothing is 100% effective against social-engineering attacks. But following some best practices for “process security” would reduce exposure:

  • Ensure all connections are secure. Lock down all network protocol ports that are unnecessarily open. Know what is connecting to what. Eliminate weak links in the chain. Surprisingly, there are still systems that use unencrypted HTTP rather than HTTPS.
  • Initiate two-factor authentication. Combining a password with a physical device or token provides is far more secure than using passwords alone.
  • Perform regular penetration testing. Check to make sure there aren’t holes in the security perimeter.
  • Consider implementing digital rights management (DRM) earlier in the production cycle.
  • Foster discussion and collaboration regarding security among disparate groups within your organization. Traditionally, production teams have assumed cybersecurity to be the province of the CIO, CTO and information-technology teams. In the new environment, everyone needs to be cognizant of the security strategy and policies.

Ultimately, people at all levels throughout the content community need to remember the mandate to protect the master copies!

Security is an issue that spans every part of the content lifecycle that no one organization can likely solve alone. But a heightened focus on process security — enabled by digital fingerprints — will help power those anti-hacker lightsabers.

Emily Hopson-Hill is global product director for media logistics at online video platform provider Ooyala.

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