2011 – A Year of Many Things: A recap of the big events of the year

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The Catastrophic Disaster of the PSN

With a truck load of great exclusives and a much nicer price, 2011 was truly looking like the year of the PlayStation 3. For the first few months at least. 2011 was expected to be the year where Sony might finally start to win some battles in the next generation console war. Where they could actually start acting like they did in the PS1 and PS2 days.

But then something went horribly wrong.

On the afternoon of April 21st, a suite of multiplayer and other online features were turned off. Everyone, even here at techgeek.com.au, thought was just unexpected maintenance of the PlayStation Network. It soon, however, turned into a disaster (both security and PR-wise) as the whole system was taken offline globally.

Not only does Sony usually give players notice of disruptions like this, they also generally take place at less inconvenient times, not on the verge of a large break like the Easter long weekend. This, coupled with the fact that Sony was completely silent for around a day, made the whole outage suspicious. Because we had no official releases from Sony, and not even any firm rumours of what was going on at that stage, we decided to post a small article onto the site saying that something wasn’t right. Usually we have press releases or other sources, but this time the gut feeling said something truly was wrong in Sony HQ.

12 hours later, early the next morning, the PSN was still down and finally the official PlayStation Blog posted a less than helpful acknowledgement on the problem, stating that it might be “a full day or two before we’re able to get the service completely back up and running.”

The rumour mill was now in full swing on who crippled the service. Fingers were initially pointed at Anonymous for the shenanigans. This wasn’t entirely out of character, especially after many members didn’t like some of Sony’s recent behaviour and had started “Operation Sony” on April 3, the same month as the outage. The removal of the Other-OS feature, which allowed Linux to run on the console, in March 2010 and the legal action taken against George Hotz (aka Geohot), who had jailbroken the console in January 2011, added fuel to their anger. However, turns out, it wasn’t them.

Then finally, Sony confirmed the worst possible scenario. “An external intrusion on our system has affected our PlayStation Network and Qriocity services. In order to conduct a thorough investigation and to verify the smooth and secure operation of our network services going forward, we turned off PlayStation Network & Qriocity services on the evening of Wednesday, April 20th,” it said in a statement.

Not only did this mean the previous date for the return of the PSN was delayed, but that the service had been officially hacked and that users information had possibly been taken. It later turned out that it was, on a massive scale. As the bad news continued, including the announcement on April 24 that Sony was “re-building [their] system to further strengthen [their] network infrastructure”, they officially declared that users information had been taken and the hack was very severe and finally called for the help of the FBI on April 27.

On May 1 a “Welcome Back” program was announced as Sony executives apologised for the problems. The network was still offline, and this small package, while pretty good for free, could barely make up for the terrible events. The next day, however, it was revealed that Sony Online Entertainment had also been hacked and that over 12000 credit cards and 24.7 million accounts had been stolen, hurting more Sony customers.

Sony apologises for PSN downtime
Sony PlayStation/YouTube

Finally on May 16, the PlayStation Network gradually came back online (except for in Japan and East Asia) and PS3 firmware 3.61 was released to force password changes. PSN and Qriocity services, online game-play on PS3 and PSP, playback of rental video content, Music Unlimited service, access to third party services, friends list, chat functionality and PlayStation Home was now online, with the PlayStation Store (think Xbox Live Arcade) still offline.

In the end the entire outage restoration cost Sony US$171 million. 77 million PSN accounts were stolen, 25 million SOE users and 23,400 EU SOE credit cards were gone. And what did Sony customers get in return for waiting? A couple of old games. Stay classy, Sony.

Not only was Sony’s PR response to the hack dreadful, but the delay and leaking of tens of millions of customer’s information was unforgivable. It truly killed any chance of Sony winning 2011, along with other unfortunate problems, and truly made the PlayStation Network an embarrassment for any users of the network, especially to people with friends who own other consoles. It’s the biggest breach of data for any gaming network and possibly even any online service.

Here’s hoping Sony’s upcoming Australian PlayStation Vita launch in February 2012 will be the start to a better year for Sony customers.

– CS

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