Thursday, May 5, 2011

8-Bit Thought Bubbles


We're in week 2 of the whole SOE/PSN fiasco. Long story short, PSN went down, Sony let everyone know about it a few days later, SOE went down and now Sony is being brought in front of Congress to answer a few questions. Only, they didn't actually go in front of Congress, content instead with sending a letter that blames Anonymous. This is getting scandalous.

A lot of this traces back to Sony's recent insistence on suing Geohot (George Hotz), the modder who published the secret key used to jailbreak the PlayStation 3. At the time Sony was championing a battle against piracy in their eyes, vowing that Hotz's actions were illegal. Nevermind the new government rules enacted last July that says jailbreaking is legal. All this ultimately stems back to Sony's insistence on removing Other OS, depriving a few users of the ability to install Linux on their PS3s. Tawdry enough yet? It gets better.

At the time, Anonymous decided to launch an online assault on PSN, depriving users of the service for a few days while the trial was ongoing. Anonymous has long been the hero of the underserved, launching crippling cyber attacks on whatever site incurs their wrath. The difference here though was that the people they were hurting were the very people they were trying to fight for in the PSN users. They called off their dogs and everything seemed ok. And then it got real.

On April 21, PSN went down. Sony claims to have detected an intrusion between April 17-19, but told its users that there was "Emergency Maintenance" when they first took PSN down. Turns out Sony was actually the victims of an external intrusion (seems ironic). So effective April 21, PSN users couldn't take advantage of another advertised feature of their PS3 in the PSN.

Finally, on April 25, Sony came forth and admitted what was really going on. PSN was taken down due to an intrusion, they're looking into it and, oh, upwards of 69 million users had their data swiped. Names, addresses, email addresses...the works. Everything short of credit card info it seems. Now we learn that possibly 12 million credit card numbers have also been stolen from during the intrusion. Fun times.

In the letter to Congress, Sony states that they found a file on the server that simply says "Anonymous. We are Legion." I'm not buying that though. If this was Anonymous, we'd know. They're not the type to quietly strike, take down the entire PSN and then not brag about it. And why would Anonymous want to steal the PSN user database? What are they going to do with it? A lot of gamers tolerate their actions because they feel Anonymous is on their side. If they took that goodwill and used it against the people they're protecting there would be a huge backlash against them.

Currently, the PSN is still down. Sony bigwig Kaz Hirai said at his press conference that the PSN should be back online this week. Gamers can expect something along the lines of a free month of PSN Plus, refunds of subscriptions to things like DCU Online and Hulu Plus and maybe a free game or two. Probably some credit monitoring thrown in for good measure. Does Sony have that much contempt for gamers though?

First, they blame Anonymous, who I really don't think was behind this. They're an easy scapegoat. It's wholly possible they did do it, but this isn't their MO. Second, their compensation does nothing to soothe consumers' fears about their information. What happens after the free month of PSN Plus is up and a year later someone's identity is stolen? PSN can wipe their hands clean and say they made their recompense so their hands are clean.

The notion that an infrastructure as supposedly robust as PSN could be hacked speaks volumes to the requirement that users have a credit card on file. Xbox Live is guilty of this as well. Users should NOT be required to have a credit card on file if they choose not to do so. There have been too many horror stories of databases being stolen. Further, billing problems are all too common on Xbox Live and PSN. I've read countless stories about the networks (Xbox Live in particular) incorrectly or overbilling credit cards for renewals, followed by a harrowing quest to get the charges reversed.

Sony: you got owned. Admit it. Fix it. Make it right. Don't blame Anonymous because you need a scapegoat. And don't think a few free months of various subscriptions will assuage our fears. Your network was clearly weak if it could be brought down for two weaks. Stop hiding behind letters to Congress and random emails to users and deal with it. You've already got one black eye...no sense in adding another.

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