The Hack Heard Around the World

The Hack Heard Around the World

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Editor’s Note: The recent hacker attack on the Sony PlayStation Network has spurred a hacker free-for-all.


The recent arrest of a 19-year-old man in London in connection with a number of high-profile hacker attacks against international businesses and government agencies is not likely to cripple two hacker collectives. In fact, efforts by law enforcement to clamp down on the “hacktivists” have only provoked more payback cyber attacks.

Before the hacker collectives called Anonymous and Lulz Security (known as LulzSec) hit other businesses and government agencies, they centered hacker attacks on corporate giants of the world of online gaming.

Those actions won support from gamers. As the hacker collectives target other companies, though, their supporters in the gaming community are questioning their motives.

In what historians might remember as the “Hack Heard Around The World,” Sony’s PlayStation Network, which had been running for five years with no interruptions, suddenly shut down April 20. A few days later, Sony announced that “an external intrusion on our system has affected our PlayStation Network and [video/music on-demand] Qriocity services.”

Gaming Alone

Over the course of the next few weeks, the PlayStation community would experience an abbreviated version of the current NFL lockout debacle. Yes, gamers were locked out of playing games online with their PlayStation 3.

Affected gamers were livid, of course. But, that had little to do with their stolen personal data that made headlines or with Sony’s questionable security measures. What hit many was the sudden realization that they would have to play alone for the foreseeable future.

Gamers would not be able to download those nifty new add-ons to their digital entertainment or hang out with their avatar buddies in PlayStation “Home." That’s Sony’s version of “Second Life,” a 3D virtual world where user can socialize in real time.

That may not make any sense to readers who don’t play video games. To understand how this works, imagine if someone took your smart phone away--but not while you’re in the mountains or on vacation in Costa Rica. Or think of what happens when your Internet and cable shuts down, say, during the NBA finals or VH1 television show Mob Wives.

The hack on Sony and its effect on their community of gamers was certainly a tabloid-heavy topic while the service was down. In the end, though, it worked out for all parties involved, and most gamers were happy about the free stuff they got from Sony as a part of their “welcome back” program.

However, the Ocean’s 11-scale hack on the PlayStation Network was only the beginning. Since then, the gaming industry has been the target of a hacking free-for-all that no one has ever seen before -- a virtual cyber World War I.

In the last few weeks, video game companies, such as Bethesda Softworks, Nintendo, BioWare and Epic games, as well as publisher Codemasters, Escapist magazine, EVE Online, and League of Legends have all been hacked. And, those are only a handful of the recent victims.

Most companies have reported that personal data have been stolen. Others were subject to “distributed denial of service” (DDoS) attacks, an attempt to make a computer resource unavailable to its intended users.

Like sitting in a whites-only café in the Jim Crow South, hackers consider this to be the equivalent of a peaceful protest, and some fully expect to get pummeled in the process.

Protesting Corporate Arrogance – and for Laughs

The reason behind the hack on Sony is an easier discussion topic. Sony has always had a reputation amongst the gaming community as an arrogant company.

Especially egregious, they feel, is Sony’s handling of the famous iPhone hacker George Francis Hotz (aka, Geohot). The corporation had his social networking accounts seized, after a judge allowed Sony to view all IP addresses that visited him.

Geohot had to agree never to tamper with any Sony products. In January,  he  “jailbroke” the PlayStation 3 console and released a “how-to manual” on the Web showing hackers how to do it on their own.

“If not for people like this, technological advances would be even more repressed than they already are,” said one posted article discussing the Geohot hack. “Don't forget that it's nerds and geeks that gave you the technology to be able to come here and comment in the first place,” wrote the poster.

Because a large group of gamers were sympathetic to Geohot -- who came off in the public eye as a nerdy kid, who never grew out of LEGOs -- the hack of the PlayStation Network didn’t bother people much. Sure, it was annoying, but many felt Sony had it coming.

The subsequent hacks on Sony, however, are a different matter.

To be clear, there are two groups are thought to be at the center of the hack attacks: Anonymous and LulzSec. The former has admitted to conducting DDoS attacks on Sony Computer Entertainment, even one as early as two weeks before the big hack.

Anonymous has repeatedly admitted, however, that they had nothing to do with the attack that has resulted in the identity theft of 25 million Sony Online Entertainment members, 77 million PlayStation Network (PSN) members and 10,700 debit cards in Austria, Germany, the Netherlands and Spain. In a recent interview with VG24/7, a person who could “not speak for Anonymous or as Anonymous, but [could] speak as Anon,” stated:

Our intention with our initial attacks on the PSN was that of a sit-in, preventing traffic to their service in order to protest their actions. We didn’t want to piss off the consumers, as they were the ones whose rights we were campaigning for. Sony were removing true ownership of the console, as well as prosecuting hackers, and we were trying to spread this information to the consumers.

Although Anonymous appears to focus on attacks against dictatorships and corrupt institutions, LulzSec, which has attacked about five companies in the past week, says they do it for different reasons. Like little minions of The Joker (the Heath Ledger version in Batman: The Dark Knight) or the teenage anarchist rap group Odd Future, they do it for the lulz, an Internet colloquialism that translates to: For the laughs.

To celebrate their 1,000th tweet, a statement allegedly from LulzSec was posted on Pastebin stating:

This is the lulz lizard era, where we do things just because we find it entertaining…. We've been entertaining you 1,000 times with 140 characters or less, and we'll continue creating things that are exciting and new until we're brought to justice, which we might well be. But you know, we just don't give a living [blank] at this point -- you'll forget about us in 3 months' time when there's a new scandal to gawk at, or a new shiny thing to click on via your 2D light-filled rectangle.

After the latest attacks, and particularly the recent statements from Anonymous and LulzSec, the opinion from gamers has shifted dramatically.

The VG24/7 comments section was filled with opinions of users, who felt the Anonymous apology was too little too late. Copal, a user of Joystiq, went the comedic route with my personal favorite quote of the week: “I'd like to send out an open offer to all future prison cellmates of the LulzSec crew. I do not believe that anyone deserves to be sexually assaulted. But, if things just end up happening that way I will arrange for 20 cartons of cigarettes to be delivered to you if you tell them you did it ‘for the lulz.’”

Operation Anti-Security

So, what’s next?

The answer seems to be more of the same. Although recent arrests have been made of three Anonymous members in Spain (the website of the Spanish police was hacked soon after), 32 members in Turkey and two members of LulzSec in the United States and U.K., the hacking incidents have only escalated.

Recently, the hacker groups Lulzsec and Anonymous have joined forces to implement what they call “Operation Anti-security.” The groups will target government and corporate systems in and effort to "tear them limb from limb."

According to CBC News, LulzSec just released 62,000 private Internet accounts, including Facebook, PayPal, Twitter and Xbox Live.

As Anonymous, which does not condone the actions of LulzSec, puts it: “For every Anon they arrest, 10 more will step into their place… Anonymous is the manifestation of an idea, and ideas are bulletproof.”

Damon Packwood is an educator, visual media enthusiast, and blogger who lives in Oakland, Calif. Read more of his writing at www.dangerbrain.wordpress.com.