You can forget about the ransomware attack which has been holding the computer systems of banks and private citizens hostage. Now things are actually getting serious and the hackers have gone too far. Someone has allegedly stolen a copy of the next Pirates of the Caribbean movie and is threatening to release it unless they are paid a huge ransom in bitcoin. (LA Times)

Hackers have once again struck at Hollywood, this time claiming one of the summer’s biggest blockbuster releases — Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales,” the fifth installment in the highly profitable swashbuckling franchise, starring Johnny Depp.

Walt Disney Co. Chief Executive Bob Iger told ABC employees in New York on Monday that hackers have claimed to have stolen a movie and are threatening to release it in segments until their demands, which include a pirate-like ransom paid with Bitcoin, are met.

Iger didn’t identify the movie, and the Burbank-based Disney declined to comment. But a person with knowledge of the situation who was not authorized to comment said the movie that was hacked was the new “Pirates of the Caribbean” sequel.

Is this the sort of demand that Disney is likely to meet? After all, they’ll probably make a billion dollars or more off of this film when it comes out, so who cares if they have to lay out a couple of million in bitcoin to keep it secure? That prospect likely makes most people cringe because it sets a terrible precedent. When you begin dealing with extortionists in that fashion it just proves to anyone else with similar ideas that this is a profitable enterprise and it encourages more of the same. And what if Disney pays up but the movie winds up out on the web anyway? It’s not as if the solemn promise of a group of hackers is going to carry much weight.

The incident also dredges up once again the ongoing debate over the problems arising from bitcoin to begin with. In the old days (as in eight years ago) the big problem with almost all forms of extortion of this type was how the criminals could get paid without being caught. Either showing up to claim a bag full of cash or having some sort of electronic transfer involving a bank could generally lead the authorities to you. Now, with bitcoin, you can launder that money pretty quickly and disappear into the ether. It almost sounds as if they could get away with it in this case.

But in the broader scheme of things, this hijacking of a major Hollywood film is yet another example of how our technology seems to have gotten out of our control. Everything can apparently be hacked, including the records of government agencies, banks, credit cards or major retail chains like Target. And while there are occasionally a few arrests, hackers are notoriously hard to catch. It seems to require massive resources and significant investments of time to solve a single case and these days there are more hackers than you can shake a stick at. Every new development designed to thwart the hackers seems to be overcome almost immediately by the next wave of dark web software.

Is this a fight we’ve already lost? Do businesses need to basically take all of their systems offline in the future just to avoid these problems? Going back to sneakernet (as it used to be called) sounds depressing, but it may wind up being the only secure data management tool left.