THE BLOG
12/23/2014 09:15 am ET Updated Feb 20, 2015

Patriotism & History: Lessons from Sony

As I was sorting through all the chatter concerning the "Sony Hack" fiasco, I came across a funny comment from someone lamenting how decades from now their children and their children's children will find a page on James Franco and Seth Rogen in their history book. Yes, that is the shelf life that their film "The Interview" will have on history.

There is a lot we can learn from this incident. One, North Korea's leader clearly is not into hi-jinx and comedy. Maybe he's more a "Bridges of Madison County" kind of despotic leader, but I'm guessing his thing is superheroes. As for hacking, that's nothing new. The bar however, has clearly been raised this year. So far we've seen major retailers such as Target, eBay, and Home Depot take a black eye. We've also previously witnessed shocking hacks by Internet data vacuums, for example Google surreptitiously stealing our passwords and wireless network information (and subsequently being fined millions) as they drove through our streets mapping the world while egregiously violating their own "Do No Evil" mantra. Hacking is a real and present danger that is growing in its complexity. Such an online reality is disconcerting enough. The problem here is when hacking crosses over into global political cyberbullying.

Cyberbullying is anti-American. It's faceless yet profoundly offensive whether done by kids on YikYak.com or when carried out by an unfriendly country. In all cases the cowards who follow such a path are not to be awarded any success. Today our freedom is at stake and has been bullied and co-opted. We all know that Sony is not an innocent victim here - its IT practices were simply shoddy. Its response to the bully was even worse.

Every big hack corporate victim we hear about has demonstrated a remarkable carelessness in the protection of their data, even while having significant resources at their beck and call to secure their servers and information warehouses. The absurdity in all of this reached a peak with an inane comedy film. From people I know who watched the film in production, it was just an entertainment farce with no intrinsic value and certainly no threat whatsoever except to the intelligence of its audiences. It really is just a trademarked style of American comedy, foolhardy and foolish, with a few good laughs validating the admission price. Instead of laughing, we are stumbling about in quicksand and surrendering the very values that give us the opportunity to enjoy such cinematic dung.

The best response here would have been for Sony to find an alternate distribution solution while encouraging Americans to boldly deny the hackers any further win. But what kind of response did we get? After being noticeably absent when he ought to have been in the front lines, President Obama gave Sony and theater owners a verbal slap on the wrist, righteously declaring the appropriate high road of non-capitulation. But a day late and disturbingly focused on retaliation instead of the heroic and effective type of American-style bold defiance when faced with threats of intimidation. I guess so much for that whole united we stand, divided we fall philosophy. On Twitter, Avengers director and Buffy creator Joss Whedon kind of summed up Hollywood's and many others take on the whole scenario: Mr. President, where was your sage counsel to Sony when the public terrorist threat was made? When the theater chains balked? @josswhedon

And what about Sony CEO Michael Lynton, who took a spineless "not me" position, flicking off the blame down the food chain:"We did not capitulate. We don't own movie theaters, and we require movie theater owners to be there for us to distribute our film."

So you are just a victim, Sony? You make the product, meaning you control the game, not the people showing your work. Do you think that if you threatened a theater chain to withdraw all future films from their screens, they wouldn't capitulate?

Sony's surrender is capitulating and unfortunate - but in the mix we are reminded they are not an American company, so perhaps they do not stand strong and true or fundamentally behind American cultural values. Yet just imagine the opportunity they just squandered.

The best solution in all of this remains available and we can hope that the next company this happens to takes this option:

1. Honorably, authentically, and immediately admit your abject failure in securing your data, and humbly apologize to all affected parties.
2. Stand tall and affirm the rights to freedom of expression that is the trademark of democracy.
3. Announce a program to donate your profits from the attacked properties to causes that people can rally behind, that mitigate the attack and/or strengthen the freedoms challenged.
4. Request that your customers, the public, and the media take the high road with you.

Sony is a weakened company today, more by their response than by the hack itself. They squandered a remarkable opportunity to turn lemons into lemonade and deny any win to the hackers while honorably admitting their mistakes in data security. There is a lot to learn here - big and small corporations take note - every CEO ought to be checking their data protection practices twice. This is a great time for hackers and entrepreneurs to band together as the good guys and create new businesses teaching us all how to be private, free, and secure!