Who Dun It? Who Do We Blame?

By Kyle Landwalker

MAY 29, 2011 — Sony Entertainment has certainly had one hell of a rough year so far, from earthquakes, a tsunami, radiation leaks that affect international shipping, a $4 billion dollar deferred tax debt, and the most discussed and controversial blow at the present, the repetitive hacking of Sony’s servers, raising the question, does the eastern sun still rise on Sony?As most everyone knows, Sony’s Playstation Network was been hacked by an unknown source. The first time happened on April 20, causing their first international outage. Mind you, a security breach for any company, especially a company like Sony Entertainment, is a big deal, but we’re just now discovering how big a deal it has been and continues to be. As of this morning, Sony has announced they are, once again, restoring Playstation online services across parts parts of Asia, but no one is speculating how long that will take or if they are now bullet proof from hacking invaders. After all, their first attempt at restoring services earlier this month failed miserably.

The question on most of die-hard Playstation fans is when we will get our services back. All those hard earned dollars we spent for PS3 and portable systems, not to mention the online games we had purchased and/or rented seems to be going to waste, and speaking for the collective, we want them back sooner than later. But the bigger question many of us share is, who hacked Sony? Investigations were launched to not only find the breach in security itself, but to also to find the “who” that was responsible for the attack.

WHAT HAPPENED

The first hack job on April 20, the first day of the outage, resulted in the theft of personal and financial data of over 77 million users of the Playstation Network in spite of expert encryption and sophisticated security failsafes. Board members and company VPs scrambled to action, making press releases, hiring outside security experts to look into the damages, only to uncover more bad news. In addition to the PlayStation Network breach, security professionals also discovered that Sony Entertainment Online (SOE) servers, responsible for running Everquest and other various popular MMOs commissioned by Sony Entertainment, were also breached, tacking on an additional 25 million user accounts containing personal information, and at least 23,000 credit card and bank account numbers being stolen.

At this time fingers were being pointed at the well-known and often feared hacker group, Anonymous, an internet society of hacking gurus and pranksters widely recognized for various cyber-attacks on other online games like Habbo Hotel, and such daring attacks as the temporarily knocking of the Government websites of Zimbabwe, Tunisia, and Egypt offline. But Anonymous denied the accusations of being involved in Sony’s attacks, and many people defended them, arguing that attacking the users of a company like Sony is uncharacteristic of Anon, many stating it “unlikely” for them to go after Sony’s consumer base.

Despite tightened security and a new password reset system for all Sony Online Entertainment and Playstation Network users, Sony was attacked a second time last week, this time losing 12,700 more credit card numbers. With rumors speculating a third attack was imminent and security issues still unresolved, Sony shut down all their servers until further notice.
This is all we know about the incident. Sony hasn’t released any juicy information regarding the identity of the hackers, nor have they released information about how it was done. The most we know about the method used was a suggestion by a Sony tech that the encryption system for the Playstation 3 itself may have been cracked, which is dangerous in itself as it could result in possible security breaches for various game companies and titles in the future as well.

WHO’S TO BLAME?

In my opinion, to pull off such a grand cyber operation on Sony, you would have to either be one of the greatest and most skilled hackers in history, or an organized group. So who would I suspect? I say only three groups, or categories, would have the resources and talents to successfully pull this off: Anonymous, a major Government, or someone working in the corporate espionage/sabotage field.
Let’s look at the three, first, Anonymous. Fact: If Anonymous can bring down various websites of official foreign Governments, then I’m certain they have the ability to hack a major conglomerate corporation. But what’s the motive? Why would Anon, an internet group with anarchic undertones, attack the average consumer by stealing credit cards and bank accounts? After all, they’re not in for the money. And if the motive was just for the thrill of it, like many of their other attacks, why would they deny the accusation? If anything they would PROUDLY announce they were behind one of the biggest cyber-attacks against a corporation in history. Anon being behind this attack just doesn’t make sense.

So who else could have done it? Well, obviously a government entity would have the resources and talent. The Japanese government, for example, might have the ability to do it. But once again, what would be the motive? If anything, the Japanese government is patting Sony on the back for paying them $4 billion dollars in deferred taxes, money that was desperately needed to help repair damages from recent disasters, like the tsunami and problems associated with the nuclear reactor leaks. What would the Government have to gain from compromising Sony’s servers? Even MORE money? I don’t believe that the Japanese Government would be so desperate as to hack one of their own leading conglomerate companies only to steal a billion or two more from consumers around the world. It would destroy their credibility as an international player in the consumer’s good market.

So that leaves one possible option, the only option that makes sense to me – the intrigue of corporate espionage. But if that’s the case, who?
I’m sure there are thousands of software, hardware, music, and conglomerate corporations out there that want a piece of Sony’s pie, but very few I could name big enough to pull this off. Alright, then let’s look for a connection then. What systems were attacked? Sony makes tons of products, including several lines of computers and various other technologies. But keep in mind the only Sony systems attacked were the Playstation Network and the Sony Online Entertainment servers, both related to video gaming. This would suggest that the possible perpetrator is in the gaming business, or, more specifically, the video game console business.

Excluding third party technologies like the i-Phone, there are only three major companies who are currently competing in the console market; Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo. Obviously, Sony is the victim, so we can rule them out, so let’s look at the other two.

First, there’s Microsoft. Microsoft is Sony’s number one rival on the open market, and on top of that, was one of the biggest and wealthiest companies in the world even BEFORE it entered the gaming industry back in 2001. They built and created the very operating system over 90% of the nation uses. Arguably, Microsoft has enough power to attempt world domination, let alone take a rival company offline. However, they have an alibi to refute that theory.

Since Microsoft entered the gaming market in 2001 with the original Xbox, and later the Xbox360 in 2005, they have continually outsold Sony’s PS2 and PS3 systems, and remain the number one most sold game console spot, even after the release of Sony’s PS3 and Nintendo’s Wii (2006).

Adding to the argument that Microsoft would have little incentive to hack Sony’s servers, why bother since Sony is already struggling with difficulty’s associated with the tsunami and radiation leaks that heaped shipping problems on the company, and a major annual loss propagated by the $4 billion dollar taxes Sony just paid to the Japanese government. Microsoft wouldn’t risk a cyber-attack and the possible resulting damage to their image should it be traced back to them. So there’s simply no good argument to associate Microsoft with Sony’s recent problem.

The only logical choice is the underdog; Nintendo.

Now before I get a slew of negative comments and hate mail for pointing fingers at Nintendo, I would like to say that I have nothing against Nintendo’s systems, and I enjoy their products myself. But at the same time, they are the only logical choice for such covert corporate espionage in my opinion, or least a leading candidate in my way of thinking. Why? Well, not only do they have a motive, they may have several!

THE FEUD BEGINS

Nintendo, of course, has a long and interesting history, starting out as a playing card company way back in 1889, but it wouldn’t be the Nintendo we all know and love until 94 years later, 1983 to be exact, when they released the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) into the video gaming market.

The video game industry was still very young back in those days and the most popular console at the time was the Atari 2600. The NES did the impossible; it outsold all its rivals, rivals thought to be unbeatable at the time. With games like Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, and Final Fantasy, Nintendo quickly turned video gaming from something people just had as a hobby to building up a die-hard fan base of gaming across social levels of all kinds.

As time passed, other consoles and competitors for Nintendo’s glory came and went. It wasn’t until 1988 when Sega released the Mega Drive in Japan, later to be renamed the Sega Genesis when it released in America in 1989. The Sega Genesis offered better graphics and bit rates, broadening the limits of video dame developers more than ever before. Two years later Nintendo released the Super Nintendo Entertainment System to combat the Genesis, and the race was on. It wasn’t the first time a “console” war had happened, but it was the first time two rather large fan bases found themselves divided in loyalty between two competing consoles. For the first time in its life on the game market, Nintendo had an actual threat to deal with, a serious rival to an industry they had cornered and dominated; a real competitor. But that was okay, Nintendo wasn’t too worried, after all, it had a secret weapon.

Back in 1986 Nintendo worked with another company specializing in technologies, a company by the name of Sony. The two companies jointly worked on an idea for a new console called a “playstation,” brought forth by Ken Kutaragi, a Sony executive who had just come out of his hardware engineering division at that time. The idea was to build a console run by a CD-ROM instead of the standard cartridge that most video game consoles had used up to that point. CDs were a new technology, they had far more memory space than cartridges, in fact, for the simple games in that era, the memory was almost limitless, and more practical than cartridges. It was a joint project between two corporate giants, Sony and Nintendo.

In 1991 Sony revealed the project at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) – a Super Nintendo Entertainment System with a built in CD-ROM using CDi technology. Sadly, things did not go as well as planned. In the end, greed prevailed. The two companies couldn’t agree on how to split the profits between them. Only one day after the announcement of the new system, Nintendo made their own announcement at the very same show saying they were breaking their partnership with Sony and instead would be partnering with Philips using the same technology.
Noria Ohga, President of Sony, was furious, and he intended to make it Nintendo’s biggest mistake with a vow to become their worst nightmare.

And so he did.

Ohga appointed Ken Kutaragi, the man responsible for the idea of the playstation, often referred to by Playstation fans as “The Father of Playstation”, to further develop the Playstation, but he wanted to make it better, more sophisticated in order to not only rival Nintendo’s system, but to crush them for their unforgivable sin.

The Original Playstation was released in 1994 and it immediately outsold everything on the market. New games and technologies were developed on levels never thought possible before, and wowed every single gamer on the market with its effective 3D technology, its disk based games, its unbelievable graphics and memory space. Games had never looked, and arguably never played better.
With stunning releases like Lara Croft’s Tomb Raider and Crash Bandicoot, and even the continuation of a Nintendo franchise known as Castlevania ported exclusively to Playstation, any and all consoles on the market met their eventual demise except for Nintendo and Sega, who had to settle on taking a back seat role in the industry.

Nintendo barely survived in truth, and lived off of the fumes of its most loyal and hardcore fans as it desperately worked on a console to counter the Playstation’s growing sales rate, the Nintendo 64. Many of the qualities and engineering choices in the development of the Nintendo 64 were impractical for the market however, and therefore they didn’t sell very well, but enough to keep Nintendo alive in the gaming console market.

Sega on the other hand wasn’t so lucky. Sega’s last console was the Sega Dreamcast, another console that used CD technology. Sega fans admired the console and claimed it to be “ahead of its time”, but sadly it had a short life span. In 2001 Sega completely left the console market and became strictly a gaming software developer.
Sony remained unmatched in console superiority until the release and introduction of its new rival in 2001, Microsoft’s Xbox.

Nintendo, meanwhile, never returned to its former glory. The closest it ever came was with the release of the Nintendo Wii, and even then what made it outsell at first, its new technology, eventually became the very thing many gamers didn’t like about the console, and declining sales resulted.

But Nintendo isn’t done yet; it still has one more thing up its sleeve.

It has been confirmed that this summer at E3 Nintendo will be releasing a new HD console, supposedly one that has graphics and performance to rival that of the Xbox360 and the Playstation 3. This is a very interesting turn of events – a turn of events that raises a lot of questions.

How long have they been planning this? How have they kept it so secret? Like Nintendo or not, one can agree that improved graphics has never been their forte, perhaps this is stretching a little far, but do you think it might be reasonable to think that they could have reversed engineered another console’s technology by, oh, I don’t know, maybe by breaking a console’s encryption code and taking the graphical technology for themselves?

Another fact that would suggest Sony’s attack may have been the result of corporate espionage is that over a hundred million accounts in total belonging to Sony had their personal information stolen, and many of them had their financial data stolen. Out of all those accounts, how many reports of stolen money bank account money have you heard about? None. How many reports of Identity theft have you heard? None. Given the time frame since the attacks, millions if not billions of dollars would have already been stolen from various users and moved to some Swiss bank account somewhere if monetary theft was the only motive. The fact we haven’t heard any reports of any stolen material suggests to me that this isn’t an attack against consumers; this is an attack against Sony, targeting their technology and designed to damage their public image. What more effective way to lose the public’s trust than to have all their financial and personal data compromised? Meanwhile, the servers are still mostly down, and no one can play or even BUY Playstation games online. And even if you do buy them, what’s the point? Most of the games today have online experiences, and without online play for a lot of people those games are now considered useless.

I predict that Nintendo’s new console will have an advanced online community to rival that of the Xbox360’s. Meanwhile, this whole fiasco is costing Sony so much money they may not have the funds available to design a console to compete with Nintendo’s new baby, or it could delay them in the least, and these days a delay may be all you need to get a step ahead of your competitors in the competitive console business.

I’m not accusing Nintendo of being behind the cyber-attack against Sony. I’m just saying that if it wasn’t hackers responsible for this, then the only logical explanation is corporate espionage, and out of the other two competitors mentioned, Nintendo has the biggest motives; revenge, profit, and redemption.

— Kyle Landwalker (PhantomSavage), Phantomunderground.com

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