We always thought the Grinch stole Christmas. This year, it was Lizards instead. A hacker group called The Lizard Squad is taking responsibility for bringing down most of PlayStation Network and Xbox Live with a DDoS attack. Nearly two days since the attacks commenced many servers are still down, as both Microsoft and Sony continue to struggle with network issues. Aside from making a lot of people angry, these attacks hold daunting implications for not only the gaming industry, but our tech-reliant society as well.
What is a DDoS Attack?
The term DDoS refers to “distributed denial of service.” It is used to flood a network with traffic to the point where it becomes disabled and inaccessible for normal users. Sounds sophisticated right? Well it’s not, and it’s surprisingly easy to initiate. DDoS attacks use a number of “bot machines,” which are gained through infection via social media and email. These bots serve as an army for the attacker and upon order, can flood a website with unmanageable traffic. The technology required to commence such an attack can cost as little as $150, which significantly less than what consumers had spent on next generation consoles, only to not be able to play them on Christmas day.
Hacker Groups: Naughty or Nice?
It’s fair to say The Lizard Squad deserves coal this year (and possibly every year). Most people spend the holidays with family and friends; TLS spent it in the hopes of ruining the holidays for others. Outspoken on their Twitter page, TLS insisted that PSN and Xbox Live would not come back online until a certain amount of retweets and favorites were given to them. Whatever attention TLS didn’t get in the past they are certainly receiving now, even if its not the best publicity. A group called The Finest Squad has taken opposition to the lizard humbugs, publishing much of the Lizard’s personal information online. While this didn’t fix the servers, it put pressure on TLS and exposed them to the public. TFS fought fire with fire and while PSN remains down in many areas, some networks are generally recovering. Sony and Microsoft certainly did little to deal with TLS, but our Christmas vigilantes have shown us that hackers can be good guys too.
Microsoft and Sony Get Coal Too
Enter Microsoft and Sony, two of the worlds biggest technology companies. How is it that a small group of hackers could take down the networks of multi-billion dollar corporations on one of the most important commercial holidays? You would need to ask them, but they’re likely not to answer. Customers were very displeased with Sony and Microsoft’s silence on the network issues, and even more upset with how long they took to resolve (as I am writing this article the PSN servers in Virginia still do not work). Why are companies of this caliber not prepared for attacks like this? A group of rag-tag programmers should not be able to spend a couple hundred bucks and bring down a sophisticated network. Perhaps its a question of funding. It wouldn’t be ludicrous to consider that Sony may not have funded the proper defenses because it wasn’t in the budget. However, after The Interview incident, it is becoming clear that Sony is not doing everything in its power to defend against cyber attacks. Customers need to be able to trust in the defenses of electronic products they buy. This situation has been (and continues to be) handled poorly by the big name companies.
Aside from Gaming
While Christmas 2014 truly was a silent night for many consumers hoping to play their new consoles, this incident has more important implications. DDoS attacks have the capability to cripple the networks of businesses and organizations all over the world. The Lizard Squad is an ominous reminder that in a society so reliant on technology, we are sometimes at the mercy of those who are ahead of the curve. DDoS attacks are illegal in many countries including the United States and United Kingdom, but that does little to solve the problem. Since DDoS attacks can be initiated from anywhere in the world and are relatively inexpensive, the perpetrators are likely to evade legal repercussions. While this is not always the case, it is nevertheless unsettling for the consumer to know that sensitive information is not safe with the companies they trust in. The solution? Organizations need to step up and hire people like the The Finest Squad to assure the public of cyber security. The appeasement of groups such as TLS and whoever was behind The Interview blackmail, set precedents that transcend entertainment. The last thing we want to see is the use of DDoS on something more important than PSN or XboX Live. By tolerating people like The Lizard Squad, we send a message of frailty and vulnerability to those considering cyber attacks on institutions society could not function without.
The Lizard Squad claims that they “did it for the lulz” (translation: for the fun of it). However, the implications of their actions are anything but funny. We hope that like the Grinch, their hearts will grow three sizes by next year- so we don’t have to deal with more holiday frustration. If they don’t, then companies like Sony and Microsoft need to be ready. Giving hackers what they want is too costly in the precedent it creates.