Sony Attacking File-Sharing Sites, Report Says

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Jamie Foxx and Quvenzhané Wallis in the 2014 remake of 'Annie.' Credit: Columbia PicturesJamie Foxx and Quvenzhané Wallis in the 2014 remake of 'Annie.' Credit: Columbia Pictures

If you've been trying to download illicit torrents of stolen Sony movies and corporate data and noticed that it's taking much longer than usual, you may have an unusual culprit to blame: Sony Pictures Entertainment. The Hollywood division of the Japanese conglomerate is allegedly taking extreme measures to protect its intellectual property, up to and including launching distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks against prolific torrent sites.

The information comes by way of tech news site Re/code, and while the report is far from confirmed, Sony Pictures' supposed actions are too bizarre not to report. The article states that two sources close to Sony Pictures have confirmed a DDoS attack against popular pirating destinations, originating from Amazon Web Services servers in Tokyo and Singapore.

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If the report is true, Sony Pictures is trying to protect something much more valuable than just its movies and TV shows, and may be resorting to legally dubious methods to do so. In the past few weeks, several dozen gigabytes of of private Sony Pictures data have been leaked online, and the hackers who stole the data say they've got nearly 100 terabytes more.

The data was apparently pilfered in late November, just before all the Windows PCs in Sony Pictures offices across the globe were hijacked by a grinning skull on Nov. 24. Days later, four unreleased Sony movies, including the upcoming remake of "Annie," showed up on file-sharing services, followed quickly by a flood of corporate data that no one at Sony Pictures would ever want to have seen made public.

Eager muckrakers have been gobbling up financial information, private correspondences and business transactions related to the movies and TV shows produced by Sony Pictures. Sensitive data pertaining to about 47,000 Sony Pictures employees and associated freelancers has been posted online, including the home addresses and Social Security numbers of some well-known actors and directors.

The data is rife with possibilities for both gonzo journalism and cybercrime, even as Hollywood industry watchers, security experts and the FBI scramble to figure out who's behind the hack.

Launching DDoS attacks may deter people from file-sharing in the short term, but unless Sony Pictures plans to keep it up forever, it's unclear what the company's larger strategy is. Once information hits the torrent sphere, it's hard to get it off. While inconvenience may put off casual torrenters, casual torrenters are also more interested in pirating Spider-Man or Seinfeld than sifting through a server farm's worth of emails and spreadsheets.

The Re/code report said Sony was also flooding torrent streams with bogus files bearing titles similar to those posted online by the Sony Pictures hackers, a throwback to practices of a few years ago in which music and film companies put corrupted versions of movies and popular songs on file-sharing sites just to waste downloaders' time.

It cannot be independently confirmed whether Sony Pictures is really engaging in script-kiddie tactics, but turning pirates' tactics back on them is familiar territory for the larger conglomerate. Between 2005 and 2007, the Sony BMG record company loaded many of its music CDs with hidden rootkits that would secretly install malware on the PCs and Macs of users who tried to rip MP3s from the CDs.

Marshall Honorof is a Staff Writer for Tom's Guide. Contact him at mhonorof@tomsguide.com. Follow him @marshallhonorof. Follow us @tomsguide, on Facebook and on Google+.