Hollywood's Email Fears Escalate Post-Podesta Hack

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Andrew Colin Beck

Open Road Films takes "a lot of their information offline" as top execs stick to short and sweet emails to avoid what happened to Hillary Clinton's campaign manager (and Sony before him): "I'm much more cautious, even with friends," says documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney.

While many in Hollywood enjoyed (or dreaded) searching for their names in the email hack of Hillary Clinton campaign manager John Podesta, it also brought flashbacks of 2014's Sony breach — and a scary reminder that no electronic missive ever is secure. "I'm much more cautious, even with friends," says documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney, who has made enemies of institutions from Scientology to the Department of Justice. He uses the phone for some sensitive discussions and the Signal app to encrypt calls and texts.

Sony Pictures Classics co-president Tom Bernard says the big lesson from his studio's hack was the need to separate your personal and business accounts. "You don't talk with your mom on your work email anymore," he says. Open Road Films CEO Tom Ortenberg says his company took "a lot of information offline — old-schooling it" after the Sony hack. And after reading the script for Oliver Stone's Snowden, which Open Road released, "we put Band-Aids over our webcams."

Mark Duplass had the fear struck into him while directing his first studio film, 2010's Cyrus. "I emailed my producer Michael Costigan because I was having problems with the notes I was getting from Fox Searchlight. I said, 'This is crazy.' He said, 'First rule: Don't ever email that stuff.' " Gibney notes that everyone should use simple protections. "If John Podesta had two-factor authentication, those emails wouldn't have been hacked." (Two-factor authentication, or 2FA, is the use of a second piece of log-in info that only the user knows.)

Entertainment attorney Linda Lichter agrees. "To keep something from prying eyes, I use WhatsApp," she says. "With texts, if you delete it, theoretically it's still there; with WhatsApp, it's gone." But if someone really wants to dig into your email, they'll find a way. "It's like going to the ladies room — you just have to be careful what you say," adds Lichter. Not all have converted to hypervigilance. "It's hard to edit yourself permanently," says Roadside Attractions co-president Howard Cohen, adding that simple brevity is the safeguard of many C-suiters: "When I get an email from a high-level person, it's a seven-word email."

This story first appeared in the Dec. 2 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.