In our recent podcast, we brought up news about a possible threat against Sony’s websites this weekend. Sources monitoring the IRC channel used by ‘Anonymous’ found evidence that the group was planning an attack on Sony’s websites over this weekend in an apparent protest to how the company has/n’t handled the recent security breaches.
In case you haven’t been following the news (or our podcast, for shame) Sony’s Playstation Network was hacked on April 19. A week later Sony released information on their blog that the network had been compromised but didn’t elaborate more than that. Subscribers then learned that all personal information kept by Sony (address, phone number, login, password, history, etc) had been stolen by the hackers. Sony insisted that all credit card information was secured, however, and there was no need to worry. It then came to light that ALL credit cards had been stolen (in plain text, no less). Sony insisted that none of the stolen cards had been used fraudulently. Yeah, guess how long that lasted.
Next up was Sony Online Entertainment. Once the scope of the PSN network hack had been discovered, Sony realized their SOE system had also been compromised. All in all, nearly 100 million total subscribers and 25 million credit cards have been compromised in what is easily the largest security breach in the history of the internet.
Through it all Anonymous has claimed innocence. While the group does admit to being responsible to the simple DoS attack on the Playstation network a month ago, they are quick to put distance between themselves and this latest breach. In a statement, the “leadership” of the group was adamant that while Anonymous is a decentralized group of hackers, the general rule is to never steal credit card information. Indeed, such a hack is not normally part of the groups MO (Anonymous is typically behind attacks based upon social protest and not outright theft). Even Sony agreed that it seemed unlikely Anonymous was behind such a complex hack designed specifically for stealing information.
However, during the course of their investigation, Sony found a file named simply “Anonymous” with text inside the file reading “we are legion”, part of Anonymous’ tagline. On top of that, Sony’s public websites have indeed been hacked this weekend, with the names and information of 2500 people being displayed openly on the sites. The same information that was stolen in the first place. And while anyone can leave a file someplace (and put anything in it, and name it anything they want), having chatter in your IRC channel talk about another attack and then that attack revealing the stolen personal information is a tad incriminating!
So, let’s look at the possible scenarios:
- Anonymous is fully aware of what’s going on and is lying to everyone’s faces about their non-involvement. This scenario is the least likely of the bunch for a few reasons, not the least of which is Anonymous’ need for support. Since they try to act like the Robin Hoods of the digital age, they need to keep their support base. And nothing would poison that support base faster than 100M gamers suddenly being locked out of their games, having their personal information stolen, and credit cards stolen. No, Anonymous wouldn’t provoke their own people like this. Add to that the fact that the mysterious file found by Sony only had a small portion of the groups full motto, the part most publicized and not the full mantra.
- Sony doesn’t know who did this and so is trying to place convenient blame on Anonymous. This might seem a little “tin foil hat” at first but hear me out; Anonymous is a faceless entity. Unlike other digital pests (like WikiLeaks), there is no centralized figurehead to put under the chopping block. Saying that Anonymous did this is like Sony saying it was done by chupacabras. The only difference is we KNOW Anonymous is real (and that they’ve infiltrated Sony before). This scenario is plausible, as it would give Sony a handy excuse. However, that would mean that Sony faked the file found on their systems (not hard), posted the messages to the IRC channel (also not hard), and then posted the stolen information on their own sites while simultaneously “worked hard at removing it” so as to appear to be fighting off hackers. Seems kinda out there when you say it like that.
- Anonymous doesn’t know who did it, but Sony is right in thinking it’s them. The problem with being a decentralized, anarchist group with no clear leadership is the fact that anyone can be Anonymous. This means that someone who had been involved with the Denial of Service attack on the PSN weeks ago has now gone rogue. Maybe they think they can make some money. Maybe they think Sony needs to be punished and this is justice. Either way, they are acting independently of Anonymous, while still performing their actions in Anonymous’ name. In my mind, this is the most likely scenario.
- My wife suggests a different version of #3 where a completely different group goes in and breaches security, but leaves a trail of breadcrumbs to Anonymous as a red herring. Such a group would probably know that whoever gets caught for this is going to burn, and didn’t want to be the ones found. A group like this might consist of people similar to Anonymous, only be much more mercenary and less Greenpeace.
- Professor Moriarty has been living in the net for many years now, waiting for the best moment to strike. After realizing that he didn’t need to start wars or economic collapse (and that trolling on forums and WoW was boring), he hatched this diabolical plan to nuke Sony into the dark ages. Perhaps not the most likely theory, but not without merit either. After all, he did take over the Enterprise.
Whoever is behind the attacks, one thing is clear; Sony can’t be trusted with customer information right now. While I’m not saying anyone else could handle such attacks better on a technological front, they certainly couldn’t do worse from a customer service front. Customer confidence in Sony has dropped like a stone, with them passing from joke, through pity, and now complete indifference. When Sony announces that they have lost more customer information, we aren’t surprised anymore. If anyone tells you that credit cards were stolen online, you will think Sony. Even Sony’s stockholders are jumping ship; in the last three weeks alone Sony’s stock has dropped over 2.08 billion dollars.
So, on one hand now would be a great time to buy Sony stock and sell it as soon as it goes up! On the other hand, you’d just be wondering if you’d then lose your personal information! (yes, I know buying stocks is not like signing up for PSN. It’s a joke)