Apparently making good on their threat from earlier this month, the hacking group Lizard Squad brought down the online gaming networks for Xbox Live and PlayStation Network on Christmas day with the effects continuing through Friday. The two online gaming networks were brought to a halt by an attack called a Distributed Denial of Service (DDOS) whereby hackers are able to mobilize a network of zombie computers called a botnet into flooding the system and overwhelming it with phony access requests. As many as 146 million people may have been affected by this outage with even people playing a physical copy on their own machines affected because newer versions of the consoles used to play video games require online authentication in an effort to thwart pirated video game copies.
Kim Dotcom, the creator of the sharing site Megaupload may have induced Lizard Squad to stop the attack when he offered free lifetime vouchers for his MegaPrivacy website that provides encrypted cloud storage on the condition that Lizard Squad stop the attack on Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network and pledge not to do attack them again.
Lizard Squad came to public awareness in August when the group claimed responsibility for hacking the PlayStation Network. In September the group claimed to have brought down a number of online video game networks including the popular Gran Theft Auto Online and Call of Duty. Earlier this month it used another DDOS attack to temporarily bring down the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live. At that time it threatened a further strike of some kind on Christmas on which it has apparently followed through.
Although the danger to individual players is non-existent, it certainly is a major inconvenience to video game players around the world. DDOS attacks are relatively simple to achieve and the fact that companies are still vulnerable to such attacks reminds us that companies have much work to do to improve the reliability and security of their systems. The world is connected through the Internet, a system that was naively developed without security being a major concern. Government and private industry must take all necessary steps to reinvent the Internet with greater security before the effects of hacking become more than just the inconvenience of not being able to play a video game and become attacks on major systems such as the energy grid that have greater effects on our way of life.