The Tech Herald

Anonymous’ Operation: Sony is a double-edged sword

by Steve Ragan - Apr 6 2011, 00:26

On Sunday, Anonymous started recruiting and developing a new operation focusing on Sony. By Monday, the operation had been called a success, after it took down the PlayStation Network (PSN) as well as several PlayStation-related domains, including the PlayStation Store. Yet, true to form for Anonymous, the operation was not without some internal debate.

Sony Corp. came to Anonymous’ attention after it took legal action against George Hotz (a.k.a. GeoHot), the coder behind a popular tool that allows homebrew software to run on the PlayStation 3 (PS3). In addition, Sony is also taking legal action against Alexander Egorenkov (a.ka. Graf_Chokolo) for his efforts to restore Linux to the PS3.

The reason why Hotz and Egorenkov do what they do follows on from Sony's decision to kill a major selling point for the PS3 by removing the system's OtherOS feature, which enabled the use of Linux. Hotz and Egorenkov’s efforts to return the OtherOS feature are both a gift and a curse. While the pair has earned respect for their research and technical skills, they have also gained the attention of Sony's legal team.

The question here centers on ownership. Sony says a PS3 owner cannot crack open and modify the gaming systems, as the hardware is only licensed and therefore remains its property. Many people view this stance as both ethically and morally wrong, but the law is on Sony’s side, for the most part... at least for now.

Hotz and others in the homebrew community disagree, noting that when an individual buys a PS3, they are not renting it, they own it, and therefore should be free to do as they wish with the hardware. Bearing that in mind, GeoHot has shared all the information needed to take complete control of the PS3 console. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, once that information spread, Sony duly sued him.

This lawsuit is at the heart of Anonymous’ actions. On Monday, when Operation: Sony started, the primary reason for its execution was because Sony “abused the judicial system in an attempt to censor information about how [its] products work,” a message from Anonymous explained.

“You have victimized your own customers merely for possessing and sharing information, and continue to target those who seek this information. In doing so you have violated the privacy of thousands of innocent people who only sought the free distribution of information. Your suppression of this information is motivated by corporate greed and the desire for complete control over the actions of individuals who purchase and use your products...”

Anonymous struck hard and struck fast. It wasn’t long before playstation.com and the PlayStation Store were taken out. In addition, PSN was also taken down, which prompted Sony to issue a statement saying it was investigating “intermittent service” problems.

The attack lasted most of Monday and ended earlier Tuesday morning. During that timeframe, Sony’s PlayStation Store remained offline almost the entire time. Other related domains were up and down sporadically, while PSN was back online after about 75 minutes of downtime. However, the total PSN outage varied depending on gamer location.

“We are currently investigating, including the possibility of targeted behavior of an outside party,” offered Sony in an official statement.

“If this is indeed caused by such an act, we want to once again thank our customers who have borne the brunt of the attack through interrupted service. Our engineers are working to restore and maintain the services, and we appreciate our customers' continued support.”

Customers were rather vocal regarding the attack, and the blogosphere was abuzz with talk about Anonymous’ Operation: Sony. Yet, unlike before, there was no neutral stance or clear support. This time, gamers and pundits alike were calling the attacks hypocritical. For the first time, Anonymous’ actions directly impacted consumers.

Previously, when Anonymous used DDoS attacks against an organization, only the main site was targeted. For example, when VISA was targeted, its processing operation wasn’t impacted, so consumers could still use their cards. Yesterday, that wasn’t the case. Taking down Sony’s PSN was a major change, one that hurt the very people Anonymous claims it wants to support.

Given that the outages suffered by Sony were noticed and sustained, you could call the operation a success. But, at the same time, it could also be deemed a failure because it did not gain the positive attention that was desired. However, anyone who follows Anonymous could argue that this was expected.

Internal conflict is the norm, and this latest operation is a classic case of targets being selected by mass consent alone. On IRC, where those who wished to support Operation: Sony gathered, the suggestion to target PSN was hotly contested. Both sides of the argument made strong points for and against the attack. In the end, the mob ruled and PSN was taken down. At the same time, as a sort of compromise, it wasn’t hit as hard as other Sony targets.

Currently, targeted Sony domains are online, but crawling. Anonymous, at least on IRC, has slowed its actions as it plans a better method of attack. However, this does not mean that everyone has walked away and ceased fire on Sony. Earlier this afternoon, those who were connected to 'The HIVE' via the LOIC tool used for DDoS actions were told to relax, but also warned to expect things to resume shortly.

“The HIVE is cooling down - Will be resumed later - The HIVE is being prepared for the biggest attack Sony has ever experienced ;)… We have several primary, several secondary, and several tertiary botnets involved in the attack. The HIVE is a bonus…”

We’ll keep following Operation: Sony and report on any new developments as and when they happen.

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