Is the Latest Cyberattack That's Crippling Playstation Related to 'The Interview' Hacks?

Only hours after victoriously showing the movie “The Interview” through video on demand sources and in independent cinemas, Sony was again devastated as a group of hackers, known as Lizard Squad, shut down the service network for the Playstation (or PSN). Also shut down, although more briefly, was the Xbox Live online network, operated by Microsoft, although users had reported its functions were limited.

Tens of millions of gamers worldwide are reportedly affected. Gamers are able to play games offline, but couldn't communicate with other players or make use of network functions. Sony and Microsoft have not publicly commented on the possiblity of a major cyberattack or breach on their networks. 

Thousands of gamers had taken to Twitter to complain about problems with the systems, which lasted into the afternoon on Dec. 26. Gamers first noticed some outages on Christmas Eve, but the Playstation network problems became more widespread and finally ground to a halt on Friday morning. As many gamers get consoles and additional games for Christmas gifts, this is the busiest time of the year for gaming.

Lizard Squad is a known rogue hacking group, sometimes described as online vandals, although some cybersecurity experts call them a sophisticated criminal network. The hackers used "distributed denial of service" attacks, repeatedly overwhelming Sony and Microsoft's servers with fake user traffic and overloading the servers.

While Playstation is owned by Sony, Microsoft also offered “The Interview” on its gaming and entertainment network for the same price, $6 for a rental, that Sony Pictures and Google did. The movie became available online Christmas Eve. The buddy flick/black comedy depicts a fictional attempt to kill North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un. It led hackers, believed by some to be working for the North Korean government, to break into the Sony Pictures' servers and release confidential documents, embarrassing and sensitive emails, and videos of movies that weren’t yet available either in theaters or in digital format.

Earlier this week cybersecruity experts pointed their fingers at Lizard Squad, calling the group a participant in the Sony Pictures hacks. The experts claimed the group was assisting the North Korean government or whoever is behind Guardians of Peace. Lizard Squad had previously taken credit for other attacks on PSN and online games such as World of Warcraft and League of Legends. Oddly, Lizard Squad has since taken credit for the attacks that briefly shut down North Korea's internet access earlier this week. 

Despite the Obama Administration's claims that North Korea hackers are behind the earlier attacks on Sony Pictures, noted cybersecurity experts say that there's much more to it than that. In The Daily Beast, Marc Rogers, the principal security researcher for CloudFlare, says that the hack is far more likely to be the work of a disgruntled employee or ex-employee than it is North Korea. CloudFlare is the one of the world’s leading cybersecurity agencies and Rogers was also the director of security operations for DEF CON, the world’s largest hacker conference.

Part of the reasons the U.S. blames North Korea for the attack on Sony Pictures is that similar malware was used against the South Korean banking industry. But the software variant of "Shamoon" malware has since been shared in the hacking community, says Rogers.

"It obviously does not mean they share a common operator," says Rogers. "Increasingly, criminals actually lease their malware from a group that guarantees their malware against detection. Banking malware and certain 'crimeware' kits have been using this model for years."

A rival group of “white hat” hackers, known as “The Finest” are vowing to expose the Lizard Squad hackers and reveal them to authorities. Lizard Squad said it would continue the attacks as long as The Finest work against them. "I have the nation on strings," Lizard Squad wrote on its Twitter feed.

The group finally stopped the attack on gaming systems after hacker and Mega/Mega Upload entrepreneur Kim Dotcom offered them 3000 Mega Privacy vouchers for his site (each worth about $100) in return for a permanent end to the attacks on Xbox Live and PSN. Right after the transaction was made, Playstation service was restored. Dotcom's hostage negotiations worked, for now. 

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