Three days before Thanksgiving, Sony Pictures employees in Culver City, Calif., arriving at work, turned on their computers to find macabre images of the severed head of the studio’s chief executive. Sony shut down all computer systems shortly thereafter,Michael Cieply and Brooks Barnes report, including those in overseas offices, leaving the company in the digital dark ages: no voice mail, no corporate email, no production systems.
A handful of old BlackBerrys, located in a basement storage room, were given to executives. Staff members began to trade text messages using hastily arranged phone trees. Sony’s already lean technical staff began working around the clock, with some people sleeping in company offices that became littered with stale pizza. Administrators hauled out old machines that allowed them to cut physical payroll checks in lieu of electronic direct deposit.
Still, for days the episode was viewed inside Sony as little more than a colossal annoyance. Though Sony executives were quickly in touch with federal law enforcement officials, the company’s initial focus was on setting up jury-rigged systems to let it limp through what was expected to be a few days or weeks of inconvenience. The company’s first statement on the breach, made on Nov. 24, seems almost absurdly bland in retrospect: “We are investigating an I.T.