The suspected Sony hackers might have more than just Hollywood in their crosshairs: according to a leaked FBI document, the “Guardians of Peace” group, or GOP, has threatened to go after not just the movie industry, but the news media as well.
On Wednesday, The Intercept published a joint intelligence bulletin circulated by the US government last week in which federal investigators acknowledge that an unnamed “news media organization” has been warned with suffering a fate similar to that endured by Sony Pictures Entertainment — the Hollywood entity ravaged by hackers in late November, purportedly over the planned release of the anti-North Korea comedy, “The Interview.”
The memo — dated Christmas Eve and distributed by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation and Department of Homeland Security — explains that the “cyber intrusion targeting USPER1 and related threats concerning the planned release of the movie, ‘The Interview’” have “extended to USPER2 — a news media organization — and may extend to other such organizations in the near future.”
In late November, hackers infiltrated the computer network of Sony Pictures Entertainment and pilfered a trove of sensitive data, including correspondence between studio execs, unreleased movies and private information on celebrities, the likes of which has since surfaced to the web. A hacking group calling itself the Guardians of Peace soon afterward claimed responsibility for the attack, and before long Sony was ominously warned to avoid releasing “The Interview” on Christmas Day as planned, or else face the hackers’ wrath further.
The FBI concluded on December 19 that North Korea was responsible for the hack, but security experts have since expressed skepticism over that claim; this week, new accusations surfaced suggesting the hack may have even been an inside job. As for “The Interview,” Sony ultimately opened the film in select theatres on Christmas, but not before ditching its original, much larger distribution plans.
Now thanks to The Intercept, it’s revealed that the FBI saw reason to believe another target was being eyed as well. The jointly-issued bulletin says elsewhere that a string of messages posted on the website Pastebin.com by individuals claiming to be affiliated with GOP taunted the news media over its supposedly inferior investigative work.
“On 20 December, the GOP posted Pastebin messages that specifically taunted the FBI and USPER2 for the ‘quality’ of their investigations and implied an additional threat. No specific consequence was mentioned in the posting,” reads the bulletin issued by both agencies.
A message currently available on Pastebin and dated Dec. 20 suggests that CNN may be the entity in question.
“The result of investigation by CNN is so excellent that you might have seen what we were doing with your own eyes,” reads part of Pastebin post authored anonymously by someone claiming affiliation to GOP.
“We congratulate you success. CNN is the BEST in the world,” the message continues, along with a link to a YouTube video titled, “You are an idiot.”
A post script to the Pastebin message reads, “You have 24 hours to give us the Wolf”— presumably a reference to CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer.
“The FBI and DHS are not aware of any specific credible information indicating a physical threat related to these postings,” the agencies add in their Christmas Eve the memo. “However, the potential remains for GOP or copycat actors to make renewed cyber and/or implied physical threats, to identify new targets or execute physical attacks if the movie is again scheduled for release.”
Federal authorities have not announced any similar hacks waged against targets since “The Interview” successfully opened on Dec. 24. The DHS and FBI note in the bulletin, however, that “hacking groups have historically made exaggerated threat statements.”
“While it’s hard to tell how legitimate the threat is, if a news organization is attacked in the same manner Sony was, it could put countless sensitive sources in danger of being exposed – or worse,” Trevor Timm, executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, told The Intercept’s Jana Winters ahead of Wednesday’s exclusive.
Joshua S. Campbell, a spokesman for the FBI, told The Intercept: “Unfortunately, we are unable to provide specifics as our intel bulletins are not for public dissemination.”