LOS ANGELES, (Reuters) – A U.S. government source said investigators had determined North Korea was behind a cyberattack on Sony Pictures as the studio pulled all plans to release its comedy, “The Interview,” about an assassination attempt on the North Korean leader.
Hackers who said they were incensed by the film attacked Sony Corp last month, leaking documents that drew global headlines, and now they have forced an apparently unprecedented change of plans for a major movie release.
Washington may officially announce soon that the North Korean government was behind the attack, the U.S. government source said.
The $44 million film had been set to debut on Dec. 25, Christmas Day, on thousands of screens.
“Sony has no further release plans for the film,” a Sony spokeswoman said when asked whether the movie would be released later in theaters or as video on demand.
Earlier in the day, Sony canceled next week’s theatrical release, citing decisions by several theater chains to hold off showing the film. Sony came under immediate criticism for the decision.
“With the Sony collapse, America has lost its first cyberwar. This is a very, very dangerous precedent,” said former Republican House of Representatives speaker Newt Gingrich in a Twitter post.
Fans of the film showed support in various ways. Texas cinema chain Alamo Drafthouse said its Dallas-Fort Worth theater would show the puppet-comedy “Team America: World Police” in which a U.S. paramilitary force try to foil a terrorist plot by late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.
On Tuesday, the hacker group that broke into Sony’s cimputer systems threatened attacks on movie theaters that planned to show “The Interview”, a comedy about an assassination attempt on North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un. The threat prompted major theater chains to drop plans for the film and then for Sony to cancel next week’s release altogether.
The White House National Security Council on Wednesday said the United States was investigating the Sony breach and would provide an update about who did it at the appropriate time.
“The U.S. government is working tirelessly to bring the perpetrators of this attack to justice, and we are considering a range of options in weighing a potential response,” NSC spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said, adding that the government was not involved with Sony’s decision to pull the film.
The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation warned theaters and other businesses associated with “The Interview” on Tuesday that they could be targeted in cyberattacks, according a copy of the document reviewed by Reuters.
Still, several U.S. national security officials told Reuters the government had no credible evidence of a physical threat to moviegoers.
Sony said it was “deeply saddened at this brazen effort to suppress the distribution of a movie, and in the process do damage to our company.”
The studio said it stood by the film makers of “The Interview”.