Sony Restores PlayStation Network Following Christmas Hacker Disruption

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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The online gaming networks of Sony and Microsoft were unavailable on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day after they were targeted by hackers

Sony said it has restored service to the PlayStation Network (PSN) online gaming service following a denial-of-service attack that took the network offline over Christmas, while Lizard Squad, the group who claimed responsibility for the attacks, over the weekend turned its attention to disrupting the Tor anonymisation network.

The attack on Tor drew the ire of rival hacking group Anonymous, which promised a reprisal against Lizard Squad.

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Service resumed

In a service update on Sunday, Sony said PSN service had resumed.

“As you probably know, PlayStation Network and some other gaming services were attacked over the holidays with artificially high levels of traffic designed to disrupt connectivity and online gameplay,” the company stated. “This may have prevented your access to the network and its services over the last few days.”

Lizard Squad said it was behind denial-of-service attacks on PSN and Microsoft’s Xbox Live that began on Christmas Eve and continued through Christmas Day. Service began to be restored on Microsoft’s network on Christmas Day, but PSN’s service was only gradually restored, returning to full service on Sunday.

Internet entrepreneur Kim Dotcom may have aided in drawing Lizard Squad’s attention away from the gaming networks – on Christmas Day, he contacted the group via private Twitter messages, offering them coupons for free storage on his Mega cloud service. Under the terms negotiated by Dotcom, the coupons would be converted to lifetime free storage if the hacks stopped, but would be invalidated if the attacks resumed.

Late on Christmas Day Dotcom said the deal had been sealed, saying in a Twitter message: “A Christmas Miracle. How @MegaPrivacy saved @Xbox & @PlayStation from the @LizardMafia attack. Enjoy your games! :-)”.

Tor targeted

Members of Lizard Squad said the gaming network attacks were intended in part to highlight the services’ poor security measures, and were in part carried out “for the laughs”. Lizard Squad had previously claimed responsibility for attacks on PSN and Sony’s online PlayStation Store that occurred earlier in December.

On Friday Lizard Squad said in a Twitter message that it had turned its attention to Tor, in an attack designed to compromise the network’s anonymity by inserting large numbers of nodes under the hackers’ control.

For the attack to succeed, and allow it to effectively listen in on supposedly anonymous communications, Lizard Squad would need to control a disproportionate number of Tor’s thousands of nodes. As of Friday, security researcher Nadim Kobeissi said in a Twitter message that the hacker group controlled about half of Tor’s roughly 8,000 nodes.

However, the Tor Project said the thousands of Lizard Squad relays made up less than 1 percent of the Tor network when measured by capacity, rather than simply by the number of nodes.

“The attackers have signed up many new relays in hopes of becoming a large fraction of the network,” the Tor Project stated. “We are working now to remove these relays from the network before they become a threat, and we don’t expect any anonymity or performance effects based on what we’ve seen so far.”

Hacking group Anonymous said it planned to take the Lizard Squad hackers to task over their attack on Tor, and also released two video messages criticising Lizard Squad for accusing Anonymous members of working for the FBI.

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