The Gamer’s Corner: Playstation’s Network Demise

Recently, the PlayStation Network, or PSN, was compromised and shut down. All users of the service, past and present, had their personal information stolen, possibly including their credit card information. This story has been constantly evolving since it began, and while some functionality may return by the time this is published, the numerous multifaceted effects of the PSN Blackout will be felt for years to come.

On Wednesday, April 20, the PlayStation Network experienced a few outages before Sony completely shut down the PSN entirely. At first, it appeared to only be a minor inconvenience. The official word from Sony was that the shutdown was just for maintenance and that the PSN would be up a day or two later. Two days later, Sony reported there had been an “external intrusion” into the PSN and they had pulled the plug on PSN “in order to conduct a thorough investigation and to verify the smooth and secure operation of our network services going forward.” Aside from stating that they hoped to get all services up and running as soon as possible, no other details were provided.

As the days went on, Sony remained eerily quiet, and it wasn’t until April 26 — six days since the incident began — that Sony confirmed that all of the private and personal information of PSN members were stolen: names, addresses (city, state, zip code), countries, email addresses, birth dates, usernames and passwords. In addition, it was possible that purchase histories, billing addresses and password security questions were also obtained. While they couldn’t confirm or deny it, “out of an abundance of caution,” credit card information may have been obtained as well. More information has been trickling out since then.

While it is understandable that Sony could have been hacked into, their response to the situation was unacceptable. The external intrusion occurred between April 17 and 19 and Sony took action on the 20th by shutting the PSN down. Sony then hired an “outside, recognized security firm” to aid in their investigation and learn the true scope of the breach. During this time, until the April 26 post, there were limited updates on the situation.

What is problematic is how the information was revealed. At some point, Sony must have known that there was a possibility of leaked information. After all, they would not just shut down the entire PSN or hire an outside firm without reason. Sony, regardless of backlash, should have posted preliminary warnings as early as possible during this situation. Instead, the company chose to remain silent throughout the whole weekend and Monday. As consumers, we pay for the PS3 and use Sony’s services, and in return, Sony is obligated to protect and inform their customers when their security is at risk.

Further complicating the situation is that all of the updates that did occur were posted on the PlayStation Blog and, from it, the story continued on through gaming websites such as GameInformer and IGN. While there are a number of gamers who know of and follow these sites regularly, a large majority of consumers were largely unaware of what was really going on until mainstream news outlets picked up the story. There are over 75 million PSN accounts in existence, but Sony has done the bare minimum to make known the severity of the security breach.

The PSN Blackout and security breach has seen numerous ramifications already, and its effects are going to be felt for years to come. For Sony, a class action lawsuit has already been filed, and U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut has sent a letter to SCEA president and CEO Jack Tretton asking questions and seeking resolutions. Sony has been hard at work rebuilding the entire PSN from the ground up to make it more secure and are hoping to restore some functionality by May 3.

The outage unfortunately occurred during one of the best weeks for games in awhile. Portal 2, the new Mortal Kombat and SOCOM 4 were all released that week and heavily featured online modes. It will be tough to say if the PS3 exclusive SOCOM 4 will recover, considering it is mainly a multiplayer-only affair and its main opportunity to build a community began that week. Furthermore,  every PSN game released that week also suffered. The more obscure and smaller developers lost their best week of sales, which puts them in rough shape, to say the least. By moving forward, it will be interesting to see how the event will shape consumer and developer relations with Sony. Consumers may no longer put sensitive information on PSN, and small developers may move to other platforms.

Last but not least, it is important for all of the affected consumers to understand that their information is now out there, if it wasn’t already. To protect yourself, it is a good idea to monitor your credit card, beware of identity theft schemes and suspicious emails, switch to prepaid cards for PSN money and also change your passwords and security questions, especially those that are identical to your PSN password and question. It is better to be safe than sorry.