Jan 8, 2015 · 1 minute

Besides raising questions about the ethics of publishing news reports based on stolen materials, the Sony Pictures Entertainment hacking in November 2014 has led to an increasing interest in defining the term "cyberwar" and finding an appropriate reaction to attacks made against private companies by state-sponsored groups or digital armies.

It's safe to say the Sony hack caused many around the world to enter a state of mass hysteria. There's a reason why one leading cybersecurity expert told Motherboard that the reaction to the hack went "beyond the realm of stupid" in December 2014 -- people have allowed their fears to inform imaginations gone wild, and that's always bad news.

One can only imagine how people would react if more of them knew about an attack on a German steel mill that caused "massive" damage to a blast furnace regulation system. (Not that an attack on an unknown steel mill in Germany would ever become as popular as the hacking of an entertainment company with which many consumers are familiar.)

Not much is known about the attack, including the steel mill it targeted or when it occurred. The attackers are thought to have gained access to the mill's production network by invading the company's business side, using spear-phishing attempts to spread to the production side, and then spreading throughout the network from there.

The attack is one of a handful known to have caused physical damage via digital means. The others are Stuxnet, a state-sponsored worm that wreaked havoc on Iranian nuclear plants, and an attack thought to have caused a pipeline blast in Turkey in 2008. These attacks didn't just embarrass a film studio, they caused real damage to critical systems.

So anyone who thinks the Sony hack, which informed some important reporting but mostly seemed to give wannabe paparazzi a look into Hollywood's inanities, is an act of cyberwar or cyberterrorism or some other scary noun prefixed with the word "cyber" might want to sit back, shut their mouths, and realize it could have been much worse.

[illustration by Brad Jonas]