LAS VEGAS – Sony chief Kazuo Hirai on Monday spoke publicly for the first time about the cyberattack that derailed the launch of the comedy “The Interview,” calling the assault “vicious and malicious.”
Hirai thanked supporters who stood by the company, including employees and moviegoers who saw the film when it finally hit theaters.
“Freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of association — those are important lifelines of Sony and our entertainment business,” Hirai said during an event on the eve of the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
“We are proud of partners who stood up against extortionist efforts by criminals who attacked Sony,” Hirai said, in his first public statements about the attack on the company’s film and television unit.
Sony employees, he added, “were victims of one of the most vicious and malicious cyberattacks we have known, certainly in recent history.”
“The Interview” is now showing at 580 independent theaters in the U.S., in addition to online platforms, Hirai said.
The cyberattack in late November led to the leak online of employee information, unreleased films and embarrassing in-house emails.
The hackers also mounted threats against Sony over the planned Christmas release of “The Interview,” which depicts a fictional CIA plot to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
U.S. investigators have said the North, which has repeatedly denied involvement, was behind the attack, but some experts have raised doubts about the conclusions of the FBI probe.
U.S. President Barack Obama last week authorized a new layer of sanctions on several Pyongyang institutions and officials.
North Korea Sunday lashed out at the move and criticized Washington for rejecting its offer of a joint investigation. It has repeatedly slammed the movie as an “act of terror,” praised the hacking attack as a “righteous deed” possibly staged by its sympathizers.
During a phone conversation on Tuesday in Tokyo, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida told U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry that Japan “strongly condemns” the cyberattack.
Speaking to journalists later, Kishida said he told his U.S. counterpart that Japan “appreciates” Washington’s firm response, an apparent reference to the new sanctions.
“Japan recognizes that a cyberattack is a serious issue that relates to the security of a country,” Kishida said.