Sony Hack Fallout: Executives Now "Afraid" to Send Emails

Scared_to_email_Illo - H 2014
Illustration by: John Ueland

Scared_to_email_Illo - H 2014

The studio's nightmare has spooked iPhone-addled Hollywood as execs resort to old-school calls and Mark Cuban has a solution: an app that destroys messages after they're read

This story first appeared in the Jan. 9 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

That giant swoosh heard around Hollywood in early December was the collective sound of hundreds of executives purging emails from their computers. In the wake of the Sony cyberattack that made public thousands of embarrassing exchanges between co-chairman Amy Pascal and others, the industry's casual email culture suddenly has gone into turnaround.

In recent years, emailing has emerged as the preferred mode of communication for both its expediency and mobility. (Producer Scott Rudin, whose brutal assessment of Angelina Jolie as "a minimally talented spoiled brat," among other comments, put him on the hot seat, is known to instantly return emails at all hours of the day and night.) But a survey by THR of dozens of industry executives reveals that the Sony breach has many scrambling for alternate ways to connect. And sources say the security firms protecting several studios have encouraged top executives to tidy up their email footprints.
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"I don't think there is any doubt that as a result of all the PR from the Sony hacking, every highly visible person and company will [now] be under attack," media mogul Mark Cuban tells THR.

Adds one top lawyer who reps a client ensnarled in the Sony hack, "Today, I'm afraid to write an email, any email." Divergent producer Douglas Wick, who has stepped forward to defend Pascal, admits, "I stopped pressing 'send' on a few emails last week."

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Some insiders, notably those younger execs who have grown up with email and social media, say the risk of hacking is just a part of modern life. Others say they simply are deleting anything that could be damaging, especially when read out of context. But deleting emails won't necessarily erase their tracks. There were more than 73,000 messages in Pascal's inbox that were leaked by the hackers dubbed Guardians of Peace, suggesting that the trove probably included messages that long had been deleted. "I tell my clients that you have to assume everything you write in an email will be front-page news someday," says Hemu Nigam, former chief security officer of News Corp. and Fox Interactive Media, adding that deleted emails never truly vanish and frequently are stored in archives. "You can lock the doors, but hackers will find a way to break in," he says.

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Still, others say the old-school Hollywood practice of rolling calls -- using assistants to place one phone call after another -- is likely to make a comeback. "While email reliance is generational, nothing can replace the security and intimacy of just picking up the phone," says Paul Pflug, a managing partner of Principal Communications Group, which reps Sony's Screen Gems chief Clint Culpepper, among others. "People are now taking a 'measure twice and cut once' approach before sending [email]."

Another top dealmaker who reps a star caught in an embarrassing Pascal email chain says he has taken to texting delicate information using Cyber Dust, a free app created by Cuban that deletes messages 24 seconds after they are read, Snapchat-style. Cuban says he even insisted on his lawyers using Cyber Dust for all negotiations with Mark Burnett Productions and Sony Television for his series Shark Tank.

"The product was created for a simple reason, which Sony execs found out the hard way," says Cuban. "You, me, everyone has the same problem of not knowing what happened to the messages they have sent."