ApocaliPSN: the Great Digital War

A battle against invisible enemies...

By canana, Posted 05 May 2011

What started as just a failure in the PlayStation 3 online services soon became one of the biggest digital crisis in recent times. Since April 20, no PS3 owner in the world can access their PSN account, therefore being unable to play multiplayer games or to purchase products on the PlayStation Store. The cause of everything? Hackers.

PSN, Anonymous, Guy Fawkes, PS3, AnonOps

After a few days in silence, Sony confirmed what everyone already suspected: the reason for the blackout in the systems was the circumvented security and that someone broke into the company's servers. However, the damage was much greater than originally thought. More than simply ending the diversion of millions of people around the globe, the attack caused the data from all PSN users to leak out in public. According to Sony, personal information such as name, address, date of birth, email, passwords and purchase history were stolen and possibly credit cards were also enrolled into the dance. It was the beginning of an intense battle fought within and outside the digital world.

Hackers have become a major headache for companies and services that work within the virtual world. Banks, for example, have long suffered from fraud cases instigated by these individuals, as well as several other institutions have their privacy systems violated for many different purposes. It is the so-called “cyber-terrorism we have become so familiar with in these modern times, where attacks are made at long distance and hidden in the secrecy--and it’s all done by the computer screen. Until now, nobody knows exactly who raided Sony's servers or why. However, there are still many questions to be answered by it; just look at recent events involving the company to realize that the battle was imminent.

The battle began with the hacking of the PlayStation 3. After keeping the pirates away from the console for years, the codes that were once thought to be impregnable were finally discovered. The responsible was George "GeoHot" Hotz, also famous for having broken the locks on the iPhone. Of course, Sony would not let this matter pass and then proceeded to take legal action against GeoHot. The company's legal decision was the trigger for the riot, as hackers around the world understand the move as an affront to freedom and GeoHot transformed into sort of a martyr to the cause. The reasons why the company embarked upon Hotz are obvious. Besides having exploited a flaw that allowed the use of pirated games on the PlayStation 3, he was the only one to show up in the whole story. This caused him to become the perfect target for Sony and if he were punished, it would be the perfect example showing that Sony isn't joking.

PSN, Anonymous, Guy Fawkes, PS3, AnonOps

While the case against him was rolling in the courts, the fight was starting in the streets. Hackers have come together in groups and were preparing to attack. fail0verflow, for example, threw the bomb spread the methods for those who wanted to use them - an effective way to undermine the "adversary" in the pocket. Anonymous, the most emblematic warriors of the whole struggle--and also as the name suggests--they hide behind the mask to act and declare war against the PS3 manufacturer. Represented by the mask of Guy Fawkes, they began a series of attacks towards PSN.

As much as the service has not dropped any time during these assaults, they were perceived by those who tried to enjoy their time online, since the connection was unstable. However, even without achieving the desired success, attitude served to show that, if done well, these actions may go unpunished, trying to impose a will or thought on the basis of fear. To put it simply, this is the definition of terrorism. The term is already well known to us since a decade ago we’ve heard about bombings and other things which helped consolidate the idea that, for this type of attack, you cause physical harm.

PSN, Anonymous, Guy Fawkes, PS3, AnonOps

However, there is no need for explosions and killings to actually define terrorism: Just stimulating fear to induce people to do exactly what you want. And what better way to do this with a business rather than exposing their security weaknesses and getting personal data of millions of people around the globe? As stated earlier in this article, what began as a simple failure proved to be something more serious and caught people's attention around the world. According to dataloss DB, data leakage from Sony is already the 5th largest in history. The difficult part about it is that these hackers just have not had access to personal information of the PSN users, but also the number of all credit cards registered in the system - about 10 million, said the company's president, Kaz Hirai. The official announcement following that brought safety concerns and raised endless question, filling the internet in a short amount of time. With this, the PlayStation maker has created a FAQ page to soothe the souls of desperate users.

Of course, soon after the statement that hackers broke into the database and stole millions of PSN data, the hunt for the culprits would start. The name of George Hotz returned again to be named. After many legal fights with Sony, GeoHot went public to swear innocence. According to him, to exploit flaws in a system is different to disrupt an entire community. Not to mention that after all the trouble he got into due to the release of the PS3, it would be illogical to find a new fight even more serious. On the other hand, he also hasn't lost the opportunity to snipe the internal adversary. After stating that he would boycott all products of the Japanese company, Hotz said that the real culprits of the current chaos came from company's own executives’ faults--the ones who truly started this war. As for the hacker, they should have hired security experts rather than lawyers. A similar situation occurred with Anonymous, the group that had attacked the PlayStation Network earlier. In its official website, they immediately claimed they were not responsible for the attacks and say that Sony is trying to use the fame as a scapegoat for their internal problems.

PSN, Anonymous, Guy Fawkes, PS3, AnonOps
Source: AnonOps Communication

It's not every day that more than 70 million users’ personal information fall illegally on the Internet - mainly originated from a database invasion of a major electronics companies in the world. The various rumors that have arisen as a result found in the fertile ground for doubt has spread and increased the suspicion about the official announcements from Sony. One of the most terrifying rumors, for example, was that it was possible to find the stolen list for sale on the black market and that it was even offered to Sony, which has refused to buy it. However, the company issued a statement saying that this assertion is false.

However, this did not prevent the company to be the target of some criticism by consumers, press and even people from the United States government. This is the case of Senator Richard Blumenthal, who was keen to send a letter to Jack Tretton, president of the American division of the brand, to demand transparency and speed up the time to communicate users on matters of extreme importance.

Blumenthal was not alone in questioning the delay in informing the players. Gamers Voice also showed dissatisfaction with the delay for new officers. In an interview with Eurogamer, they claim that the fall of PSN is something sad, but the leak is of concern and there should be a major concern in keeping customers inside of what is happening. Like any kind of negative news, the PSN's invasion had a connection in Sony's pockets. On the day that the announcement of the stolen information has been published, the company's shares fell nearly 5% in Tokyo stocks.

PSN, Anonymous, Guy Fawkes, PS3, AnonOps

That was not the only damage caused by hackers. According to the Ponemon Institute, an expert in digital privacy, Sony is expected to spend about $ 24 billion on professionals to investigate the case. In an interview with Forbes magazine, the institute's spokesman said the high price just happens through the large number of registered accounts.

Developers can also suffer financially from the problem, especially by the time the PSN is down. An anonymous developer told Virgin Media that it expects a 5 to 10% drop on digital content sales. Not to mention the smaller devs, whose only way to offer their games is at the PlayStation Store. The schedules of many of these software houses had to be changed because of the blackout. As there was no update last week, several projects were postponed, including the alternate costumes pack for Super Street Fighter IV, which now has no date set to be released.

In addition, several less-known games will now have to compete for visibility with larger projects. It may seem irrelevant, but makes little difference in the marketplace, given that the struggle to draw consumer’s attention will be even more intense. In contrast, Sony has said it will help spread some of these games to compensate the time offline.

Many players took advantage of the time that the PSN is down to play offline games. However, not all titles allow this option. Games like Bionic Commando: Rearmed and Final Fight 2: Double Impact requires that the user is online, which means that they are also unavailable since PSN is down. A situation that’s even more critical is the MMO's from Sony Online Entertainment, who had their service suspended for the same reason. Free Realms and DC Universe Online are some examples. The question is about the sign up system: will there be some sort of compensation for those who paid the fee and cannot play? Even the comments in the official blog went into the PlayStation game, because you must use your own account details to express your opinion, and nobody else can log in to use this feature.

PSN, Anonymous, Guy Fawkes, PS3, AnonOps

Source: Engadget

As you have already checked in NoobFeed.com, Sony CEO's Kaz Hirai gave a press release on Sunday to explain the situation and presented the plans to rebuild the network. He said the service should return soon with some bonuses: PlayStation Plus will be available to all users for a period of 30 days. Additionally, Hirai was keen to stress that the safety of the "new PSN" is further strengthened and ready to offer maximum privacy to its users. Not to mention the rumors that the company would be releasing new development kits for the studios to adapt to the software ribs designed by the Japanese giant.

Although we are close to the return of the PSN that does not mean that the battle against hackers is over. As previously mentioned, no service is completely invulnerable to attack, which forces companies to constantly invest in data security improvements for its users. Moreover, the hunt for those responsible for PSN's tragedy also expected to continue - especially with the intervention of U.S. federal agencies. Although the capture of these individuals can not represent the end of this practice, this does mean that large companies are aware and are struggling to protect the personal information of its users. On the other hand, it may simply create a new GeoHot and transform the invaders into martyrs for a cause, restarting the whole process from scratch.

Marco Cecilio, NoobFeed

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  • What a mess this whole situation is... great article.


    Posted May 05, 2011

  • The never ending cycle huh? Yea more than likely. Great article as usual. Will now be published on my FB :P


    Posted May 05, 2011

  • Alright, I must say, recently, I haven't been on NoobFeed very much. I've still stopped by occasionally to read the top news stories, but this one actually convinced me to comment.





    And I have to say, I'm disappointed. Both in the PSN, and in this article. I'll keep it short, though. Don't wanna clutter up the page with my unpopular opinions.



    For starters, you referred to Anonymous's actions as "terrorism", because you said they were using fear to get what they want. Fear had nothing to do with it. Sony went after an ally of theirs, and they retaliated. Plain and simple. Two paragraphs earlier, you commended Sony for their absurdly harsh actions on GeoHot in order to "make an example of him"... which, to me sounds like "scare people away from any further attempts to hack the PS3". A little perspective switch shows that if any group's actions could be described as "terrorism" (though I believe that word has absolutely no relevence to this situation), it would be Sony, not Anonymous.



    Nearly all blame lies with Sony on this one. They built up the PS3 to mythical proportions, claiming it to be "unhackable", and as the old saying goes, the bigger they are, the harder they fall. Not only did the PS3 get hacked, but so did its online service. I understand they weren't expecting this, but they should have had SOME kind of system in place to make sure the consumers' personal information remained safe.



    As for the complaints about not being able to play certain games, well, there's no reason why you should have to be online to play these games anyway. Even if the PSN weren't down, quite often you'd find yourself in a situation where you wanted to play a game, but couldn't access the internet. And normally, it wouldn't be a problem; sure, you couldn't play any online multiplayer with friends, but there's nothing stopping you from going through a single-player mode.



    This is already much longer than I intended it, so I'll stop right here.


    Posted May 05, 2011

  • Well to me most of the hoopla with this is more the "kick em while they are down" sort of thing. Sony did the right thing by shutting down the network (it wasn't taken down by the hackers, it was shut down as a protective measure) once they realized that PSN had been compromised. Moving to a more secure network and taking the time to set things up properly is something that was already in the works anyways, this incident just made that happen faster, with added measures now that is taking even more time. Nothing in life is 100% secure, not even Xbox Live for those that have enjoyed taking the cheap shots at Sony for this.



     



    There is no cause here, no matter who is behind this. Attacking and disrupting innocent consumers who have nothing to do with whatever issue or motive caused this just shows the low class that whoever orchestrated this has. I really do hope whoever is behind this is caught, every last one of them, and prosecuted to the fullest extent. I also hope that in the future they keep making harsher penalties for those who pirate games and especially those who hack businesses for their own agenda. There is no positive that will come from this, Sony will do their best to make things right, but in the end they shouldn't have to, they are the victim here as well as every PSN user that had their information compromised. For anyone that knows even a little bit about computers, and especially about networking knows that no matter what security you have, who you have working for you, or whatever safety measures you have in place if a person or group of persons wants to violate that then they will. Whether it's Xbox Live, PSN, SOE, Youtube, Amazon, eBay, etc.



     



    So for those of you that wish to bash Sony for this, and consider them a faceless corporation that didn't care enough to protect their users, I offer an alternative thought here. Sony is spending billions of dollars to do their best to track down who is responsible for this, putting an open ended price tag on making things right, no matter who they have to hire or what security measures they have to pay for. You can "what if" "should have" "didn't do" all day long, but what matters to me is that they are doing what it takes to fix this situation to the best of their more than capable abilities. For that I applaud their effort and remain an ever loyal fan who will continue to pay top dollar for the gaming experience that I enjoy the most. I don't feel let down by Sony, I am not afraid that they can't do things right, and I sure don't think they are perfect because no company is. So thank you Sony for taking the time (no matter the criticism), spending the money, and making the effort to make sure this situation is properly resolved and your consumers are properly compensated. More companies can, and should take example of your actions and commitment to your consumers.


    Posted May 05, 2011

  • @David_D : I agree, in my opinion Sony did right about shuting down the service while they fix the whole mess. I think they might take a while because they must assure that the service will become unbreakable. Also, they are giving a free month of PS+ to all users. It isn't enough in my opinion, but still it's somewhat good to receive this "gift". 



    Still, there are games that requires online and that isn't nice for the gamers, preventing them to enjoy something that thay already paid for. I hope when PSN is back, we can check the changes for ourselves and see the service alive and kicking once again. 


    Posted May 05, 2011

  • @canana : It will be back eventually, but an entire server move of approx. 77 Million users, new security, testing, and who knows what else is involved in the process will take a long time. Nothing will be 100% but I'm hoping it's good enough to make those wishing to harass Sony to lose interest and move on to easier prey, or even better busted and thrown in jail, never to be let out to terrorize innocent people again. Thankfully there was no sign of the encrypted credit card data even being accessed, let alone transfered elsewhere. Also thankfully they didn't have social security numbers or security numbers to go with those encrypted credit card numbers on their system as well. I have my credit card info on PSN, and I thankfully also haven't saw any unauthorized activity on my bill.



     



    Unfortunately everyone is losing out, even Sony themselves because of this. If people want to get somewhere on this what they need to do is stop kicking Sony when they are down and turn in people they know who are guilty of these actions, if anyone knows of such people. 30 days of PSN plus isn't much, and sure they probably could do more "gift wise" but I think them spending billions of dollars to accomplish a more permanent fix to this situation means a lot more to me than a few compensation gifts.


    Posted May 05, 2011

  • Aww you stole my idea for my next editoiral! :(



    Oh well, great job man. Good read. :)


    Posted May 05, 2011

  • @Din5193 Agreed on the point of view. Personally i blame sony for most of what has happened and i do believe that this is something of their doing. Groups like anonymous arent bad just because they go against the law, in fact, they follow the law as most countries do have "freedom laws"


    Posted May 05, 2011

  • @Dramus: The exact same way that Sony enforced a law by prosecuting the hacker for violating the user agreement that you agreed to when purchasing the system and using it, thus leading Anonymous to reply with a threat and infiltration of the servers in the first place. So much for Sony being the bad guys by enforcing a law, right?



    I still don't believe that Anonymous are the ones behind the second breach, more that the hackers are trying to redirect the damages done towards Anonymous in order to hopefully save themselves, but Sony did a great job with this and took the right steps, I'll have to agree 100% with what David said on this matter.



    I have a really hard time understanding how people who are gamers can continue to support hackers that are destroying our hobbies, and for some of us like myself, risking our very own jobs and ways of making a living. The PSN outage clearly isn't profitable for me, the company I work for, the developers, or Sony themselves, it only served at delaying our work and greatly affected the consumers who frequently use PSN, on top of risking their personal information and all of this for the fun of it and for their own ego, or so it seems since there has been NO queries made for Credit Card information unlike stated in this article, confirmed by Sony, and so far there has been no reports of any information being used fraudulently.


    Posted May 06, 2011

  • So basically, this attack wasn't an act of rebellion against Sony, but rather just a mass thievery?


    Posted May 06, 2011

  • @caityful - Well, to give you a short answer, yes. 


    Posted May 06, 2011

  • Erm, no? They (not necesserally the people who are getting fingered *hihi, fingered*) wanted to test how Sony's security system was, as when you declare war on a group, they're going to size you up as well. It's quite simple. They tested the network and it seemed extremely vulnerable, especially for such a corporation, so the logical step at that point is to move in for the kill right there and then. Simply going over the chat logs could've made that clear.



    The only one that can be blamed for that is Sony, as they should've known better, because any network can be subject to that kind of attack, especially those that withold personal info on their servers. Yet another example that when you're lazy and cut corners in life, people are going to call you out and you're going to be left outdone by people who know what the word 'effort' means.


    Posted May 06, 2011

  • @FetusZero yes i understand, but the starting point in all this was the Geohot fiasco. All he really did was hack the PS3, a device he bought and had owner rights to since he paid for it. Sony didnt add that you couldnt modify your system until AFTER the geohot ordeal, which is one of the main things that got Anonymous riled up, well that and the Youtube IP thing. Honestly, i completely agree with Anonymous on attacking sony to reverse that claim on the user agreement, basically if you think about it, it means that you are technically just "Leasing" the system from Sony instead of buying it and owning it. Personally, i think Sony reacted and responded the wrong way in this. I think that the way Microsoft deals with hacked systems, on the other hand, is a little better and more messed up. They catch you with a hacked xbox, or even with pirated material on your xbox, and they ban your xbox from ever being able to go on XBL so you would have to buy a new one. At least thats what they used to do, not sure if they still follow up. But a system like that would have avoided the "pirate attack" and the Geohot fiasco.



     



    I completely agree on the fact that piracy does tremendous damage on the gaming industry. These high costing games and systems are all like that because developers and publishers have to make up the loses from people hacking their games and such. When i see Black ops or Starcraft 2 on amazon for sale and i see $60 next to that price tag, i really dont get surprised. However, this being said, i do agree on certain levels of piracy. For example, hacking the PS3 to be backwards compatible. Sony left out this feature to "save money" yet hacking the system enables to you play PS2 and PS1 titles without a problem, or with the PSP hacking it so that you can play good ol first, second, third gen games on it. Stuff that you really cant get anymore unless you pay vast money to some random collector.



     



    Thats my view in this anyways.


    Posted May 06, 2011

  • This whole debacle is a yes-but no-but scenario.

    Basically whoever is responisble decided to play with Sony's security, in turn accidentally stealing customers' details and downing the whole network so that said players couldn't use it...

    Whose side are these clowns even on?


    Posted May 07, 2011

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