Sony hack's invasion of privacy still grates on CEO

Nearly a year after a crippling hack, the studio's boss says he was distressed by how some people combed leaked emails for embarrassing information.

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Sony Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton remains unhappy with how people combed through leaked emails for embarrassing information. Josh Miller/CNET

Almost a year after a massive hack crippled Sony Entertainment, it's still a sore subject with CEO Michael Lynton.

The breach, which was revealed in November, damaged computers, leaked financial documents, and revealed the inner workings of the studio. In addition to causing so much damage that the company essentially shut down for several weeks, hackers leaked then-unreleased movies and the personal information of more than 47,000 celebrities, freelancers, and current and former Sony employees.

But what seemed to capture the bulk of the attention was the release of a trove of embarrassing e-mails between executives at the film and TV arm of Japanese tech and media conglomerate Sony. For Lynton, the fervor with which some people combed through those emails was most troubling.

"The part that was distressing was the extent to which people decided to go through it," Lynton said Tuesday at Vanity Fair's New Establishment Summit in San Francisco. Speaking at a panel on the Sony hack and cybersecurity, Lynton said he still hasn't reviewed the emails of his that were leaked.

"Of course, my correspondence was public, especially after Julian Assange decided to WikiLeaks it. But I haven't even been back through it," he said. Others have, though, and they aren't coy about admitting it, he said.

"People come up to me at lunch and say, 'I just read your correspondence with so-and-so, and it was interesting,'" he said. "To me, that's an odd way to spend an afternoon."

Lynton saved his harshest criticism for members of the media who chose to publish details of the emails, which often represented shocking invasions of privacy and caused damage to individual reputations. The contents of some emails sent by Sony Pictures' co-chair Amy Pascal were linked to her eventual resignation.

"There was tremendous unrest among the folks at the studio...I don't think it's correct to be publishing those e-mails," Lynton said. "I don't think they were newsworthy. It sort of built on itself."

Lynton isn't the only tech figure to feel that way about the hack. Evan Spiegel, CEO of messaging service Snapchat, said in December that he was "="" and="" "devastated""="" shortcode="link" asset-type="article" uuid="0c08868b-a2a7-45d0-9ea6-c0ccc1222337" slug="snapchat-ceo-devastated-by-email-leak-in-sony-hack" link-text="" section="news" title="Snapchat CEO 'devastated' by email leak in Sony hack" edition="us" data-key="link_bulk_key" api="{"id":"0c08868b-a2a7-45d0-9ea6-c0ccc1222337","slug":"snapchat-ceo-devastated-by-email-leak-in-sony-hack","contentType":null,"edition":"us","topic":{"slug":"mobile-apps"},"metaData":{"typeTitle":null,"hubTopicPathString":"Tech^Services and Software^Mobile Apps","reviewType":null},"section":"news"}"> that information about his startup's business plan was revealed in emails with Lynton that were part of the leak.

Traced by the FBI to North Korea, the hackers were apparently trying to prevent the release of the satirical movie "The Interview," which depicts actors Seth Rogen and James Franco as TV journalists drawn into a CIA plot to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. In response to threats against theaters, Sony initially canceled the movie's release but relented in the face of mounting public pressure and criticism.

Sony Entertainment also came under fire from former employees, who sued the studio claiming that the personal information stolen in the hack made them vulnerable to identity theft. The lawsuit, which sought class-action certification, claimed Sony knew before the breach that its computer systems were not secure enough to protect confidential employee information, which included Social Security numbers, home addresses and health care records.

Court records showed in September that Sony had agreed to settle the lawsuit, although financial details were not revealed.

Here's more from Lynton's appearance at the conference: