Timeline: How the Sony Pictures hacking scandal unfolded

The Interview
On Wednesday, Sony cancelled the Dec. 25 release of the film, in which Seth Rogen and James Franco star as journalists on a mission to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un. AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes

TORONTO – The unprecedented hack of Sony Pictures has quickly become one of the biggest hacking scandals of the year and one of the biggest corporate hacks of all time. For weeks, the hacking scandal has been making international headlines.

Since late November, a group calling itself the Guardians of Peace (GOP) has been leaking confidential company data online and threatening additional attacks, urging Sony to cancel the release of the comedy The Interview. On Wednesday, Sony conceded, cancelling the Dec. 25 release of the film, in which Seth Rogen and James Franco star as journalists on a mission to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un.

READ MORE: Who are main suspects in Sony cyber-attacks?

Circumstances surrounding the widespread cyber-attack have changed nearly every day. Here is a look at how the scandal has unfolded:

November 24

Sources inside Sony Pictures reveal the company’s internal systems were affected by a cyber-attack. Employees reported seeing an image reading, “Hacked by #GOP” [Guardians of Peace] on their screens following the attack.
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“This is just the beginning,” warned the message. “We’ve obtained all your internal data.”

Meanwhile, a Sony Pictures spokesperson says the company is “investigating an IT matter.”

November 27

Five leaked Sony Pictures movies begin appearing on peer-to-peer file sharing networks, including the remake of the classic film Annie that wasn’t scheduled to hit theatres until Dec. 19.

Official DVD screener versions of Mr. Turner, Still Alice, To Write Love on Her Arms, and Brad Pitt’s latest film Fury were among the leaked titles. By Nov. 30, Fury had been downloaded more than 1.2 million times.

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November 28

Reports emerge that the cyber-attack could be linked to Sony’s upcoming film The Interview, in which comedians Seth Rogen and James Franco star as journalists who are enlisted by the CIA to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un.

December 1

The FBI launches an investigation into the cyber-attack.

December 2

Some cyber-security experts dispel the idea that North Korea was behind the attack – many pointing out that Sony has been targeted by “hacktivists,” (those who hack companies to make a political point) in the past.

READ MORE: Security experts doubt North Korea hacked into Sony

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“State-sponsored attackers don’t create cool names for themselves like ‘Guardians of Peace’ and promote their activity to the public,” said cybersecurity expert Lucas Zaichkowsky.

Meanwhile, hackers leak the salaries of 17 top Sony executives online.

December 4

Confidential internal data continues to appear online, including salary numbers, layoff strategies, employee details and 3,800 social insurance numbers (SINs). According to reports, the leak contains information from about 6,000 Sony employees.

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December 6

Actors Seth Rogen and James Franco address the controversy surrounding The Interview on Saturday Night Live.

December 7

An unidentified spokesman for North Korea’s National Defence Commission releases a statement denying any involvement with the Sony hack, but calls the attacks “a righteous deed of the supporters and sympathizers.”

“We do not know where in America the Sony Pictures is situated and for what wrongdoings it became the target of the attack, nor (do) we feel the need to know about it,” the statement carried in state media said.

December 8

In a statement posted to anonymous information-sharing website Github, the Guardians of Peace demand the studio cancel the release of The Interview.

“It seems that you think everything will be well, if you find out the attacker, while not reacting to our demand,” reads the statement.

“Stop immediately showing the movie of terrorism which can break the regional peace and cause the War! The destiny of Sony is totally up to the wise reaction and measure of Sony.”

Later that night, the hackers release more confidential data, including celebrity contact information, movie deals and fake names used by top celebs to check into hotels.

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December 9

FBI Director James Comey says U.S. investigators haven’t yet determined who is responsible for the cyber-attack.

Hackers also release the full email inboxes of Sony executives Amy Pascal, Steven Mosko and Scott Rudin. A private exchange between Rudin and Pascal reveals Rudin called Unbroken director Angelina Jolie a “spoiled brat” and made jokes about President Barack Obama’s race and presumed taste in movies.

December 11

At the world premiere of The Interview in Los Angeles, Rogen praises Pascal for backing the controversial comedy.

December 12

Rudin apologizes for his remarks and admits they were made in haste. Pascal, on the other hand, says she will “not be defined by these emails after a 30-year career.”

December 15

A lawyer representing Sony warns news organizations not to publish details of company files leaked by the GOP. The lawyer hints at legal action if organizations “used or disseminated” the material “in any manner.” The New York Times, the Hollywood Reporter and website Gawker were among those that received warnings.

Meanwhile, two former Sony Pictures employees file a class-action lawsuit against the company over its security protocols. The federal suit claims that Sony Pictures failed to secure its computer systems despite “weaknesses that it has known about for years.”

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December 16

The GOP releases a statement threatening the New York premiere of The Interview and any theatre that chooses to show the film.

“We will clearly show it to you at the very time and places The Interview be shown, including the premiere, how bitter fate those who seek fun in terror should be doomed to,” read the statement. The group even went as far as to reference the terror attack on Sept. 11, 2001.

READ MORE: ‘The Interview’ reviews: Did hackers do movie-goers a favour?

Later that day, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security issues a statement saying it is aware of the threats made by the hackers; however, the agency added there is no credible evidence of an active terrorist plot against any movie theatres in the U.S.

Sony also gives theatre owners the green light to scrap plans to show the film. Shortly after, the film’s New York premiere at Sunshine Cinema is cancelled.

December 17

Listings for The Interview are pulled from the websites of Canada’s Cineplex and Rainbow cinemas. Cinplex later says the company was postponing showing the movie.

“Cineplex takes seriously its commitment to the freedom of artistic expression, but we want to reassure our guests and staff that their safety and security is our number one priority,” read the statement.

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Sony later cancels the Dec. 25 release of The Interview altogether, pulling the movie from theatres.

WATCH ABOVE: Sony Pictures is cancelling the release of the controversial new comedy, The Interview. CBS News has learned the federal government will officially implicate the North Korean government for the cyber attack. 

Later that night, a U.S. official says federal investigators have connected the hack to North Korea. The official, who says a more formal statement could come in the near future, speaks on condition of anonymity.

December 19

The FBI formally accuses North Korea of hacking Sony Pictures. In a statement, the agency says it has enough evidence to conclude that the North Korean government is responsible for the widespread cyber-attack against the film studio.

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During a press conference, U.S. President Barack Obama says Sony should have released the movie, calling the decision to cancel the release of the film “a mistake.”

Late that night, Sony Pictures Chief Executive Michael Lynton defended the studio’s decision not to release the film during an interview with CNN.

“We would still like the public to see this movie, absolutely,” he said during the interview. “There are a number of options open to us. And we have considered those, and are considering them.”

Lynton added that Sony is exploring the idea of releasing the film to a platform like YouTube.

December 22

North Korea says Obama is “recklessly” spreading rumours of a Pyongyang-orchestrated cyberattack of Sony Pictures and warns of strikes against the White House, Pentagon and “the whole U.S. mainland, that cesspool of terrorism.”

December 23

Sony announces it is giving The Interview a limited theatrical release on Christmas Day. 

“We have never given up on releasing The Interview and we’re excited our movie will be in a number of theatres on Christmas Day,” said Sony Entertainment chair and CEO Michael Lynton, in a statement.

“At the same time, we are continuing out efforts to secure more platforms and more theatres so that this movie reaches the largest possible audience.”.

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Several U.S. theatres said Tuesday they will show The Interview.

December 24

Sony announces The Interview will be available for rental on a variety of digital platforms including Google Play, YouTube Movies, Microsoft’s Xbox Video and a separate Sony website on Christmas Day.

December 25-28

The Interview rakes in over US$15 million in online rentals and purchases in four days.

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