Hack Of PlayStation Network Threatens Personal Data Of 77 Million Users

After a week of downtime, Sony comes clean about hack, promises to restore service

4 Min Read

Sony is struggling to restore service -- and customer confidence -- following the hack of its PlayStation network, which serves an estimated 77 million people.

The gaming giant has provided little information on the nature of the hack, but it is telling users that their personal data could very well be at risk.

"We have discovered that between April 17 and April 19, 2011, certain PlayStation Network and Qriocity service user account information was compromised in connection with an illegal and unauthorized intrusion into our network," says Sony in a blog.

Sony says it has temporarily turned off its PlayStation Network and Qriocity services; users say the system has been down for a week. Sony also says it has engaged an "outside, recognized security firm" to conduct an investigation, and that it has "quickly taken steps to enhance security and strengthen our network infrastructure by re-building our system to provide you with greater protection of your personal information."

The gaming giant gave few details on the nature of the hack. "We believe that an unauthorized person has obtained the following information that [users] provided: name, address [city, state, zip], country, email address, birthdate, PlayStation Network/Qriocity password and login, and handle/PSN online ID," the blog says.

"It is also possible that your profile data, including purchase history and billing address, and your PlayStation Network/Qriocity password security answers may have been obtained," Sony states. This information would include data of children, if their parents authorized subaccounts for them.

"While there is no evidence at this time that credit card data was taken, we cannot rule out the possibility," Sony continues. "If you have provided your credit card data through PlayStation Network or Qriocity, out of an abundance of caution we are advising you that your credit card number [excluding security code] and expiration date may have been obtained."

Sony warned affected users to keep an eye on their accounts and credit reports, and to change passwords that are the same on other services or accounts. The company also cautioned users not to answer messages that appear to be from Sony.

Fred Cate, director of Indiana University's Center for Applied Cybersecurity Research, says the attack presents a "massive security threat," with the potential to affect millions of people, including children.

"This is one of the biggest data heists we have ever seen, both in terms of the number of people affected and the wide variety of data that appear to have been compromised," Cate says. "Even if it turns out credit card data wasn't stolen, the consequences of this attack are huge."

The exposure of passwords and password reset questions are particularly damaging, Cate says. "Password data is very revealing," he says. "Many people reuse the same passwords and reset questions across most, if not all, sites they use," including banking, credit card, online retail, email, and corporate network accounts.

"In fact, by using the password reset information, the thieves can reset account passwords, thereby blocking individuals' access to their own accounts and information," Cate observes.

Many security experts criticized Sony for the delay in its disclosure of the hack. The PlayStation Network has been down for a week, but the company is only now notifying users of the threat.

"If you're a user of Sony's PlayStation Network, now isn't the time to sit back on your sofa and do nothing," says Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos. "The fraudsters won't wait around -- for them this is a treasure trove ripe for exploiting. You need to act now to minimize the chances that your identity and bank account become casualties following this hack.

"That means changing your online passwords [especially if you use the same password on other sites], and considering whether it would be prudent to inform your bank that, as far as you're concerned, your credit card is now compromised," Cluley says.

At an enterprise level, the Sony PlayStation breach may be a lesson in log management, says Joe Gottlieb, CEO of security information and event management vendor SenSage. The ability to quickly locate the source of a breach is often a log management problem, he says.

"I’d guess that what Sony is doing right now is looking through their logs to determine which sessions were held and when this data exposure happened," Gottlieb says. "They are uncovering who accessed the servers, what exactly was accessed -- emails, credit card numbers, etc. -- and how much data was exposed.

"In the case of any breach, the more data that is being logged, the better – it can help the breached organization put a definitive boundary around the breach, which in turn limits disclosure and damage costs and allows for more proactive handling of the ensuing PR challenges,” Gottlieb says.

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About the Author(s)

Tim Wilson, Editor in Chief, Dark Reading


Tim Wilson is Editor in Chief and co-founder of Dark Reading.com, UBM Tech's online community for information security professionals. He is responsible for managing the site, assigning and editing content, and writing breaking news stories. Wilson has been recognized as one of the top cyber security journalists in the US in voting among his peers, conducted by the SANS Institute. In 2011 he was named one of the 50 Most Powerful Voices in Security by SYS-CON Media.

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