Creative content is our most valuable asset as filmmakers. After all, original ideas, compelling scripts and dazzling cinematography take time and talent. Unfortunately, hackers know this too and are constantly finding new ways to exploit weaknesses in the supply chain to gain access to this work.
Stolen scripts, blackmail, leaked content – the list of threats to the industry seems to increase every year. This is partly because innovations in film and media are developing at such a pace. Once upon a time, hackers needed physical access to uncut film footage to hold its owners to ransom. Now, they have a range of easier ways in.
So, let’s take a look at what encourages cyber criminals to target the film industry.
More vulnerable digital targets to exploit
Developments that have changed the industry for the better have simultaneously made it harder to protect work and provide ideal pinch points for hackers to exploit. Digital cameras help facilitate longer shoots with less outlay; digital editing systems and large quantities of content can be stored cheaply in the cloud. However, without proper security measures in place throughout the supply chain, these digital advances are easily compromised.
High-profile studios like Sony Pictures and TV networks such as HBO, have all suffered cyberattacks in the past. More recently, new streaming apps have also been targeted resulting in the loss of scripts, unaired episodes, confidential data and other content that cybercriminals can hold hostage for a ransom or sell online. And while it’s the big names that make the headlines, the threat is there at all levels. In fact, many hackers choose to focus their initial efforts on targets further down the chain. This is because they are most likely to find chinks in the armour.
External partnership breaches
Studios that pride themselves on their high-level cyber security usually partner with a huge number of external suppliers. They provide services such as special effects, graphics and audio mixing – and these suppliers may not have the same level of security. The infamous 2016 hack on Netflix – which resulted in an entire season of Orange is The New Black being stolen and ransomed – stemmed from a security breach at the independent, family-owned post-production company that had been working on the footage.
A non-reactive security spend
Given the huge figures involved – each episode of Orange is The New Black is reported to cost $4m for example, while blockbuster Hollywood film franchise Pirates of the Caribbean has raked in more than $4.5b worldwide – it’s no longer possible for any film professional to overlook the issue of security. There's a suggestion that movie budgets may increase in coming years to fund better security systems and protect backers’ investments.
With these considerations, what can you do to protect your work from hackers?
Implement stronger security
Whether you’re an independent freelance filmmaker or you run a studio, it’s crucial to get better acquainted with the concept of digital security. Examine your processes and ensure they are as watertight as possible, starting from the most basic.
Prioritise security when designing processes
One of the most effective ways to boost the security of your work is making safety the number one consideration. This concept became more prevalent during the pandemic known as ‘secure by design’. Ensure that from day one you have a security plan in place to protect your intellectual property. This could involve points ranging from background checks on suppliers to confidentiality agreements through to procedures for managing any breaches. Ensure that everyone involved in your project is clear on their responsibilities in prioritising security.
Educate your employees
A company’s staff is one of its most important lines of defence against cybercriminals. One of the most common ways for hackers to gain access to systems is by compromising the account of an employee. So it makes sense to provide training on security measures and best practice. All employees should understand the importance of setting strong passwords and be aware of the latest scams and phishing attempts.
Upgrade your software
One of the easiest ways for hackers to gain access to your work is via your computer. In 2021, the entertainment industry ranked amongst the most targeted by malware – a file or code that allows a hacker to gain control over your computer. Ransomware is a type of malware that can block access to files. This means a hacker could potentially hold onto your information until you pay a ransom. This is an especially popular means by which criminals attack film production companies. Any laptop or computer you or your employees use should have a security suite installed. This collection of software utilities will help to protect you from malware, ransomware and viruses.
Use a VPN
Any work made, stored or shared online is vulnerable to cyberattack. Without taking proper precautions, data like film files can be intercepted when uploaded or when an edited file is shared with others. A good way to reduce the risk of data interception is by downloading a virtual private network (VPN). This will encrypt your connection to protect any files you send or receive. It will also hide your internet protocol (IP) address to give added online security.
Evaluate risk in the supply chain
Whether you supply services yourself or employ external contractors to carry out services on your behalf it’s crucial to closely examine the security of your systems at every step. Collaboration is great on a creative and practical level. However, the more people that are involved in a project, the greater the chances the supply chain will fall victim to a security attack. Yet, according to one recent survey, just over one in ten businesses review the risks posed by their immediate suppliers. Make it a priority to evaluate the security of any third-party creative vendors, from graphic design firms to production companies.
Remain proactive and secure
Cybercrime is here to stay, and being able to respond to it means staying alert to the current threats and preparing for those yet to appear. Allocating a budget that allows suitable protection both now and in the future is key to remaining safe and protected.
While switching your focus to security may seem an unwelcome distraction from creative work it’s clear that this is an area no film professional should ignore. Just a small amount of effort is likely to pay dividends in the long run, protecting your work and increasing your employability. After all, if a film is worth making it’s worth protecting.