Post a Job Join The Guild
Contact Us   |   Sign In   |   Register
Produced By June/July 2017
Blog Home All Blogs
Search all posts for:   


View all (12) posts »

STANDING UP TO CYBER THREATS - Time To Update The Production Workflow For Our Cloud-Connected World

Posted By Lulu Zezza , Friday, June 9, 2017

What’s the big deal?

Every day in the news we hear about new cyber-crimes. Many of these crimes affect us personally and directly. The Anthem Blue Cross breach of millions of customers’ identity data included those of us insured through the MPIPHP. These breaches are rarely explained, but the vast majority trace back to an employee within the organization who is used (wittingly or unwittingly) to access or infect the company information.


What’s so secret and why is it important to me?

Our productions are targets of many types of threats, from random ransomware blackmailers to leaky insiders to content pirates. The damage however is not necessarily limited to the commercial value of the production. The damage can include the identity theft from employees, the creative reputations of our artists and the personal reputations of our cast.


What production elements have been (or should be) considered confidential?

We have always considered scripts, contracts, designs, callsheets, dailies, continuity stills, raw publicity stills, employee payroll and health records as confidential.  Personal contact information on the crew list, including emergency contacts and medical information (e.g., allergies), is protected confidential information. Even so, this information is frequently shared amongst crew members—some who need it, some who may not.

Works in progress, particularly early stages of the writing and design process, are extremely confidential, even more so if they are rejected concepts that could misrepresent the goals and aspirations of the artists and the production.


How have current workflows put that information at risk?

Today we have a plethora of tools to make us more productive. Smartphones, tablets and laptops allow us to take our work anywhere, while cloud applications allow us to share with anyone. And yet, most of our systems for securing our productions work only within the confines of our physical (or as we call them, “practical”) work spaces. We tend to apply the same logic to protecting our digitally created and stored information. Unfortunately, there are many unknown and misunderstood weaknesses to our defenses.

More obvious: Someone takes pictures with their smartphone and posts them on social media. Less obvious: Someone turns their smartphone into a mobile hotspot and uses it to transfer media from the AVID.

More obvious: Someone forwards an email containing their callsheet to paparazzi. Less obvious: Someone opens a personal email with ransomware embedded, infecting the office server and everyone connected to it with data-locking malware.

More obvious: Someone’s personal and not-backed-up computer becomes corrupted and loses all their work in progress. Less obvious: The employee’s work product leaves along with them at wrap instead of that work product remaining in the company’s possession.

We are inventing smarter systems to share information, such as Filetrack, Scenechronize, 5th Kind, Pix and Aspera. These do help limit the promulgation of documents and videos to unauthorized recipients but only when we, or our crew, actively move those documents or videos into or via those systems. None of these protect our information outside of their applications.


How can we update the workflows to be more secure for our casts, crews and collaborators?

It starts with providing education and a new standard of excellence for our crew.

Systems for information management and security have met with remarkable resistance in the production community. There are numerous root causes of this resistance that can be turned into solutions.

Filmmakers are by nature, miracle workers. They are creative, independent, self-reliant and generally self-taught. They pride themselves in learning new and better solutions every day.  But they resist learning new systems which they have not discovered for themselves. Planning and setting up systems to protect data is not on their agenda—they need to be reviewing sets and props and camera setups. But if they can be included in finding the solutions and in planning the implementation, they will be vested in the plan.

Filmmakers are team players; they understand they are an essential part of a group effort. The information created on a production—creative, mundane and personal—is under constant threat. The cast and crew are the only combatants to protect that information. As a team working together with a plan of defense, they can protect that information—the same way they work together to execute the shooting schedule and the creative vision.

Filmmakers are hoarders of their work product.  Producers rely on experienced crew members to bring their accrued knowledge, which may include accumulated intellectual property from prior productions.  We engage crew with pertinent past production experience to create new and surprising methods and results.  This industry-wide reliance has resulted in generally lax enforcement of work product (IP) collection and storage by production companies.  It has also created, amongst crew members, a false notion of ownership of the IP that is in direct contradiction of every production employment agreement.  Crew resist storing their work on the company systems because they often believe (incorrectly) that it belongs to them.  Contractually, none of this work product should be repurposed on another company’s production except that the industry relies on their accumulated experience.  Currently, the general practice is for crew members to determine what work product they ‘share’ with their producers, typically only the ‘finished’ versions they want to be evaluated or used.  Thus, the crew curates what the producer gets to use—despite not necessarily knowing what the production needs. All too often, months after wrap, producers will search in vain for information they need for reshoots or marketing or chain of title backup.  We need to address this paradigm, and acknowledge that while the crew should take with them what they have learned, it should be the production company that determines what materials are appropriate for a crew member to keep, rather than the crew member determining what copies to provide to the production company.

Filmmakers are soldiers with an inherent respect for the chain of command. The role of information management typically has been handed to the youngest and most computer-savvy PA in the production office or occasionally to a local “IT guy.” These are crew at the bottom of the chain of command and often have little training in information security beyond setting a password on the wifi network.  Producers and UPMs need to recognize the complexity of this responsibility, engage someone with appropriate training and give that person “department head” status.

Beyond education, there are a few basic means which can begin to create a safer information environment. These alone do not provide a total solution, but they make strides in the right direction.

A first, simple and inexpensive action is to create a production-specific email domain and issue production email accounts to any crew member who will be creating information or accessing production information and media.

This provides several basic layers of security:

The likelihood of a phishing email scam (which tricks the recipient into opening links or attachments which contain malware) reaching the new single-purpose emails is very low.

The emails can be managed and backed up easily. In fact, if a crew member returns for a pickup shoot, their email can be reactivated and all their correspondence from principal immediately available to them.

Crew member access to the production systems such as those mentioned above can be limited to their production email account and easily disabled (along with the email account) when they wrap.

Production emails provide an audit trail to track attachments sent and to whom.

If there is the unfortunate case of a lawsuit and email correspondence is subpoenaed, it may be limited to only the production email versus pulling in the personal emails of the subpoenaed crew.

A second simple action is to provide a production-managed, enterprise-quality file sharing system. These services function just like the consumer versions of Box or Dropbox that most of our crew are accustomed to using, but provide a means to limit access and sharing permissions.

A third action, slightly more involved, is to set new policies regarding personal phones and computers, providing an alternative to relying on crew bringing their own devices (“BYOD” for short). BYODs are probably the greatest threat to information security in film production. Remember, the phenomenon of using personal phones and computers is relatively new and we managed to provide them, when necessary, before they became so cheap that every crew member had their own. Unfortunately, we came to rely on our crew BYODs before they became the powerful data broadcasters they are now. Fifteen years ago, if a producer was asked to provide a crew member with a device that could stream live HD video from the set to their social media page, the likely response would have been, “Are you crazy!?” But today, every crew member with a new smartphone has that ability.

Logically, no personal smartphones should be allowed in sensitive work areas, e.g., the set. By providing company-managed devices (computers, tablets and smartphones) to crew who are using them to create material for the production, share information with other crew and record information such as continuity on set, the company can control the services and applications the devices access.Company-managed devices can be kept up to date for anti-virus, firewall, drive encryption, backups and remote tracking or data wipe, if lost. They can be connected to the company-shared file system so photos and other data can be stored directly and instantly to the system.

A fourth step—another simple one—is to set up separate wifi service with limited access to office networks such as the office server and printers. Wifi network passwords should be known by very few people and never posted on the wall. A separate guest wifi with no access to the production network can allow visitors to check email and browse the web. Ideally, a production will limit access to the office network (server and printer) to hardwired ethernet connections. The wifi should access the internet only.

SPECIAL WARNING: Watch out for securing the office network printer-copier. Printers can now scan and email documents to anyone, anywhere. Printers are also access points for hackers to enter the network—an innocuous security weakness in the middle of the office.

More solutions are important and necessary but become more complicated and require information management and security training. So bring on the appropriate personnel to set it up and manage it! This means a new department with a new department head, but in this era of constant evolution the producer and the crew cannot be expected to be current with information threats and solutions. Some responsibilities under the purview of the “Information Management” department may be delegated out to crew who are already handling them, even unbeknownst to themselves.  Data assets (documents and media saved in digital format) might be managed by a production secretary and/or an art department coordinator and assistant editor. Fixing the printer jams and resetting the wifi router might be handled by the office PA. But the overall setup, equipment management and policy oversight should go to a person trained for the task.

These further solutions include (but as our contracts are wont to say, are not limited to):

Providing a single-sign-on secured network. Practically, this means just one username and password for crew to access all the production applications. For the information manager, it enables a single place to manage crew access to the various applications such as their production email, file sharing account or other company-provisioned software.

Providing device registration for network access. For the crew, this provides faster access to systems like the office network. More importantly, unregistered, i.e., unknown devices cannot access sensitive information.

Providing endpoint management control to computers, tablets and smartphones. For the crew, this means that their devices’ access to applications and external ports is limited to company-approved services. It also means that the device is monitored and can be remotely locked or wiped if it is lost.

Providing endpoint controls rather than air-gapping to sensitive networks such as editorial. (Air-gapping: to isolate a computer or network from the internet.) Unfortunately, air-gapping makes the activities on that system invisible. In an air-gapped editing room, a person might use their smartphone as a mobile hotspot without leaving a record of data exported.


How much should we be spending? And how much are we spending already?

There are added production costs related to securing our information, but they are less than one might imagine. Productions are already budgeting for computer and phone allowances and office networking. New costs might include:

The Information Manager—a new department head, commensurately compensated.

The domain name (nominal) and email accounts for those who are creators/contributors/users of information. Note: crew who are recipients only of production notifications, such as callsheets and even scripts, do not need email accounts. Secure methods of sharing can be used to send them these docs without granting them access to the production’s network. Email accounts run $8 to $40 per month, per person, depending on the added services such as office applications and endpoint management controls.

Data backup services to provide continuous backup of production devices and servers. There are many providers and prices range depending on amounts stored and numbers of devices backed up.

Enterprise-level file sharing services. There are numerous providers, and a production may wish to use more than one based on the different types of storage and sharing. 5th Kind, Pix, Dax and MediaSilo offer secured media sharing. Scenechronize, Egnyte, Box Platform, Citrix Sharefile, Dropbox Advanced and Enterprise offer secured document sharing. Some of these services are already part of common production practice.


What are the downsides of doing nothing?

We used to resist upgrading our operating systems because the upgrades would be buggy and incompatible with our software; they might slow us down for days, weeks and even months. Today, not upgrading your operating system is the equivalent of leaving your home’s front door wide open while you’re away on vacation. There is a battle taking place, day in and day out, between the cyber-crime world and the rest of us. It is invisible until it affects us personally and directly. It is extremely likely that our computers and phones are infected right now, until the next update to our anti-virus or operating system.

We need to accept as a community that the same threat applies to our own productions. Graeme Wood’s quote from 2009 has only become more true since: Change has never happened this fast before, and it will never be this slow again.”

Not taking on this challenge subjects our work to piracy, blackmail and fraud, and our personal identity to reputation and credit destruction. If that isn’t scary enough, consider the potential regulatory sanctions. As storytellers, we sometimes consider ourselves outside the normal rules and norms applied to less creative industries. But in fact, all those rules and norms apply to us as well. There are regulations that protect the information we collect about our employees. These regulations are strict in California and they are draconian in Europe. In fact, the new EU regulations, which will go into effect in May 2018, assess fines of 4% of gross worldwide revenue or 20 million euros, whichever is greater, for the misuse of EU resident personal identifying information. While our infringements may be small, a regulatory action against one of our productions can have far-reaching consequences.


What are some side benefits of adopting safer methods during production?

Adopting a designed and managed information system can provide more than just information security. It can provide many production efficiencies. The most obvious is that wrap can be a continuous process during the course of production. If all documents and media are already stored within the production shared file system, then they are already ‘wrapped.’ Eliminating all the personal storage of information and consolidating it into shared secure systems enables rapid dissemination of information to those who need it. Finding information is made easier, and restoring it to crew for pick-up shoots can be instantaneous.


If nothing else, let your approach to security be guided by the following wise words:

It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the one most adaptable to change.

—Leon C. Megginson


We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.

—Albert Einstein


Join the battle to protect yourself and your productions.

-Illustrated by Christine Georgiades

Essential allies:

The Content Delivery and Security Association ( provides free guidelines.

Media & Entertainment Services Alliance ( hosts industry informational conferences.

Tags:  cloud  cyber security  feature  post production 

Share |
Permalink | Comments (0)