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5/12/2011
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Schwartz On Security: Sony Must Do More

Forget free ID theft monitoring. Sony should release its police reports, so that 101 million people can obtain a free credit freeze to proactively battle ID thieves.

Sony disclosed on Saturday that it had suffered a third data breach in a month, this time affecting 12,000 people. Admittedly, that isn't much of a dent in its one-month running tally of 101 million compromised accounts.

Sony has offered to help, but it needs to do more. According to the company, all "PlayStation Network and Qriocity account holders in the United States only" are eligible for one year's worth of free identity theft monitoring services from Debix. Sign up by June 18.

But one InformationWeek reader, also a Sony PlayStation 3 user and "mildly regular user" of PlayStation Network (PSN), calls the identity theft monitoring offer "lame." "What Sony should do (and at no cost to Sony) is provide anyone who asks for it with a copy of their police report," he says via email.

Having a police report in hand allows you to create a credit freeze (aka security freeze), which locks your credit data at all consumer reporting agencies--Experian, Equifax, TransUnion--for free. "That is meaningful assistance versus getting a waiver of premiums for one year for the ID theft insurance they're currently offering," he says, an offer he suspects may earn Sony a referral bonus for anyone who renews after the first year.

Without the police report, you'll have to pay for the credit freeze, as well as every time you want to temporarily unlock it, for example to apply for a mortgage or credit card. Specific rules, regulations, and pricing vary by state (see the Identity Theft Resource Center's website for a breakdown of fees and timelines).

Sony, by press time, hadn't responded to a request for comment about whether it will release the police report or earn a commission on people affected by the breach who opt to start paying for the service after one year.

As noted, Sony's free ID theft coverage offer applies only to the 77 million people whose records were compromised by the breach of the PSN and Qriocity music service--now also the subject of a lawsuit seeking class-action status. But thankfully, only 12.3 million of those compromised accounts included credit card data.

The ID theft monitoring offer doesn't, however, apply to the 24.5 million accounts compromised in the breach of the Sony Online Entertainment games service, or the theft of 12,000 usernames and partial addresses. The latest breach, admittedly slight by comparison, was of data gathered during a 2001 sweepstakes and was inadvertently left on a Sony Electronics Web server.

In the pantheon of data breaches, how does Sony's mishap stack up? For comparison's sake, the watershed TJX data breach, disclosed in 2007, involved the theft of about 46 million credit card account details. The gang behind the attacks was arrested and sentenced in 2008, with the ringleader earning 20 years in prison.

No word yet on concrete leads in Sony's investigation. But The Wall Street Journal reports that Sony is considering offering a bounty for information that leads to the perpetrators. Early indications, said Sony, are that someone in the Anonymous hacking collective was involved.

A statement released by the collective disputed that Anonymous had any involvement in the attacks. But two veteran members told the Financial Times that someone involved in the group's April denial of service attacks against the Sony website may have jumped from denying service to actually obtaining sensitive data. That's based on the technical details of a vulnerability they saw discussed just prior to the attacks in an Anonymous chat room. (Interestingly, a chat room used by Anonymous was recently compromised, and the IP addresses of participants exposed. No word yet on whether that relates to a law enforcement investigation into the Sony breach.)

No doubt Sony now pins its financial hopes on the PlayStation 4, assuming it can find a way to get its PSN, Qriocity, and Sony Online Entertainment websites back up and running in the meantime. Sony has said those services will be offline for the rest of the month, at least, as its digital forensic investigators unravel the breach and its developers seek to code their way around any recurrence.


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