Someone Will Hack Into An Animation Studio And Steal This

Orlando Sentinal Disney Vault

Unfortunately the Disney Vault is not the kind of security this post is about.

It’s not really something we tend to think about until a story pops up in the news, but IT security is a big issue nowadays with every kind of company exposed to differing levels of risk. Animation studios are no different; they are businesses after all. So what will happen when someone decides to hack into an animation studio and what exactly will they decide to steal? Here’s an idea.

The Reasons for Stealing

First off, it’s necessary to accurately describe what is being discussed. Contemporary hacking varies quite a lot depending on the nature of it as well as what the target is. The kind of large-scale, mass break-ins popularised by Hollywood and The Matrix are few and far between. Variants of the “smash and grab” as well as defacing attacks are more common but relatively harmless in the grand scheme of things.

So what am I talking about? Well it’s the kind of sophisticated hacking that contributed to the collapse of Nortel; that is, the kind that no-one even notices until it is too late.

The reasons why are simple:

  • Software is expensive
  • modern animation itself is expensive
  • everyone (and hence their data) uses the internet
  • the vast majority of animation is really just files on a computer
  • time is becoming an ever important factor in production schedules

The Motivation To Steal

It’s easy to speculate on why people steal but it’s often quite difficult to get down to the reasons why they are motivated to steal. Traditionally, animation studios were subject to [serious] theft of only two things: ideas and people. The former was perhaps most clearly evident when both Pixar and DreamWorks released films whose characters were ants (A Big’s Life and Antz). The latter came to light when Pixar and Lucasfilm agreed not to poach each other’s employees (resulting in an anti-trust lawsuit.)

With the growing complexity of animation (and hence, the growing cost) there will be those with a looser moral compass out there who will gladly exploit weaknesses in a competitor’s security. Again, I don’t mean that they will make such exploits known. The truly nefarious will gain access to a studio’s network, and gladly remain there out of site, quietly siphoning off whatever they feel they can get away with. Such activity offers the potential to steal far more than just animation files and data, but also information.

Information can, in fact, be far more valuable than any animation. Look at how it worked for DreamWorks with Antz; essentially giving them a leg-up with their CGI ventures. Imagine how valuable details on multiple films would be to a rival studio? Priceless is my guess.

What Will Be Stolen

So what will be stolen? Theoretically, any computer file stored or transmitted over a network is a target. In reality though, it will depend on who is doing the stealing. A small studio is more likely to go after files (rigs, backgrounds, etc.) A larger studio will be far more interested in ideas, concepts, etc. Studios fancying themselves as rivals to Disney would be thrilled to get a really close look at how Frozen is going.

Imagine if they could get as good a view as Disney employees get? Imagine they got a good look and managed to knock out a similar picture before Disney? All those knock-offs we see these days seem to be making money for somebody, just think how much they could make if they get there’s out first?

Basically, if it is on or transmitted over a computer network (or the internet), it IS a target. This isn’t fear-mongering, it’s a fact, and the more sober you are about it, the safer you will be.

Who It Will Be Stolen From

I mention Disney and DreamWorks as simple examples. The reality is that they already have well developed IT departments. More likely targets are smaller studios and independent animators. They simply do not have the budget to maintain a full IT department let alone one with a dedicated security division. They are ripe for targeting as many do work on projects for the big boys, and as such, can be just as valuable to the dedicated  criminal.

Conclusion

Long gone are the days when if you wanted to steal something of value from an animated studio, you had to physically break into the place. Nowadays, you don’t even need to be in the same country to do it. Security is something that most people only play lip-service to until it is too late. Don’t let that be you.

The US government’s Computer Security Resource Center has plenty of guides to help.

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