Sony Pictures CEO Michael Lynton says 'no playbook' for hack response; network remains offline

More than six weeks after hackers attacked Sony Pictures Entertainment, its computer network is still down but the studio has not lost a single day of production on any of its films or television, CEO Michael Lynton told The Associated Press on Thursday.

In a wide-ranging interview Lynton talked about the company's isolation and the uncertainty that was created by the pre-Thanksgiving attack, which the U.S. government has attributed to North Korea. Sony's experience as the target of such an unprecedented corporate cyberattack is undoubtedly being closely watched in boardrooms around the world.

"We are the canary in the coal mine, that's for sure," Lynton said. "There's no playbook for this, so you are in essence trying to look at the situation as it unfolds and make decisions without being able to refer to a lot of experiences you've had in the past or other peoples' experiences. You're on completely new ground."

Among the details Lynton discussed:

— Sony Pictures' computer network was so crippled employees dug through a basement for mechanical paycheck cutters and old BlackBerry devices so that senior managers could communicate securely. Employees are still being paid by paper check. The network will be down for another two to three weeks while it is being rebuilt, Lynton said.

— While most of Sony's 7,000 employees already were on the Everbridge emergency notification system, Lynton said workers recruited the rest by word-of mouth to sign up. If he had to do it again, Lynton said he would have made it mandatory to do so. Senior managers created text and phone trees to communicate and held twice-daily meetings. The technology team created a temporary email system for all employees that was up and running one week after the Nov. 24 hack.

— The Federal Bureau of Investigation and investigative firm Mandiant were brought in within the first week. The FBI set up shop in a special set of rooms in the center of Sony's lot and conducted multiple hour-long "clinics" on a sound stage for 400 to 500 Sony employees. The meetings covered identity theft — personal information on tens of thousands of current and former Sony employees was stolen and made public — and also some computer security tips.

— Most forensic on-site work is complete and remaining techs are trying to get the system back online.

— As news leaked, managers worked to dispel rumors, making themselves visible at Sony's commissary during meal times to answer questions, and sending out communications two to three times a week. About half of the company's 7,000 employees are on site. Managers also held town hall meetings and went from building to building speaking with groups of 80 to 90 employees at a time.

— Sony always planned to release "The Interview," but did not initially know how in the wake of theater chains cancelling screenings, and then was surprised by the FBI announcement pointing to North Korea. Cable, satellite and digital companies told Sony they were wary of running the film during the holidays, a traditionally high-selling period, out of fear of becoming targets for hacker attacks too.

— Sony purposely priced the online version of "The Interview" at $5.99 rather than a typical $9.99 or higher to avoid accusations of price gouging and to ensure more people could see it after the free speech criticisms it had weathered. The studio still views the release of a film on on-demand video and in independent theaters as experimental. Lynton said the theatrical experience is important, especially for comedy "because people love to laugh with each other."

— Losses are still being calculated but Lynton said estimates thus far have been inaccurate. "What I'm hearing so far is that they're very manageable," he said. "They're not disruptive to the economic wellbeing of the company."


Tami Abdollah can be reached at .