Damian Dovarganes/AP

Sony cancels 'Interview' release after N. Korea-linked hack

US official says investigators have connected cyberattack to North Korea, whose leader is assassinated in the film

Sony Pictures canceled the planned release of 'The Interview' on Wednesday after U.S. theaters pulled viewings of the comedy about assassinating North Korean leader Kim Jong-un following threats from hackers. The announcement was made as it emerged that federal investigators had connected the cyberattack on the Sony to Pyongyang.

Regal Cinemas and AMC Theaters were among the cinema chains announcing they will not show the film as planned on Dec. 25, citing security threats by hackers that breached Sony Corp's computers.

"In light of the decision by the majority of our exhibitors not to show the film 'The Interview,' we have decided not to move forward with the planned December 25 theatrical release," Sony said in a statement.

According to the New York Times, U.S. officials have decided North Korea was involved in hacking the movie company's computers. The newspaper reported that Obama administration officials, who would not speak on the record about the intelligence findings, said the White House was debating whether to publicly accuse North Korea of the cyberattack.

The government is “considering a range of options in weighing a potential response,” said Bernadette Meehan, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council, according to the newspaper

Meehan said the U.S. government had no involvement in Sony's decision, according to the Associated Press. She said artists and entertainers have the right to produce and distribute whatever content they want in the U.S.

The move is the clearest sign of the widening influence of the hackers who have also leaked Sony documents that drew global headlines, and now have forced a change of plans for a Christmas Day movie release for thousands of screens.

"The North Koreans are probably tickled pink," said Jim Lewis, a senior fellow with the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "Nobody has ever done anything this blatant in terms of political manipulation. This is a new high."

The attack is possibly the costliest ever for a U.S. company, said Avivah Litan, a cybersecurity analyst at research firm Gartner.  "This attack went to the heart and core of Sony's business and succeeded," she said. "We haven't seen any attack like this in the annals of U.S. breach history."

How much the cyberattack will ultimately cost Sony is unclear. Sony faces trouble on several fronts after nearly four weeks since the hackers first crippled its computer systems and started dumping thousands of emails and private documents online.

The studio 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."

It said it stood by the filmmakers of 'The Interview,' which follows two hapless journalists recruited by the CIA to assassinate the North Korean leader, starring Seth Rogen and James Franco.

Representatives for Rogen and Franco, who canceled numerous scheduled appearances this week, did not respond to requests for comment.

Hackers who claimed responsibility for seizing control and leaking data from Sony's computers last month, on Tuesday warned people to stay away from cinemas showing the film, and reminded moviegoers of the Sept. 11, 2001 hijacked plane attacks on the United States.

The National Association of Theater Owners, which represents movie theaters across the United States, said Wednesday it was it was working closely with security and law enforcement agencies and that cinemas may choose not to show the film.

Several U.S. national security officials told Reuters the government was working with entertainment companies to address the threat but had no credible evidence of a threat to moviegoers.

"The theaters are reacting out of fear and uncertainty," said Bruce Schneier, a cryptologist and one of the world's leading cybersecurity experts.

A spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security declined to comment on Wednesday, but said earlier this week there was "no credible intelligence" to substantiate the threats.

A U.S. official later told the Associated Press that investigators have now connected the hack to North Korea and are expected to make an announcement soon.

Wire services

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