Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Hackers are NOT Heroes

Many hardcore comic collectors are ALSO hardcore gamers. I know that I am! In recent weeks I have had the pleasure of combining both hobbies through the playing of DC universe Online.
This is the first MMORPG that is not only available on the PC but on the PS3 as well. Console MMO’s if successful will revolutionize the genre and bring in millions of new players! Very exciting stuff.

Readers of my posts know my take on the game so I won’t rehash that here. Instead I would like to discuss the ongoing issue with the Playstation Network.

For those of you who don’t know, Sony was the victim of an external intrusion into their system on or about Wednesday of last week. This prompted Sony to take the network off line which lead to a suspension of all PSN related services such as online game play and access to the Playstation Store.

Sony has been very tight lipped as to who might be responsible for the attack. (Though it is widely believed the hacker group known as Anonymous is responsible, though they deny this allegation) Sony is also not saying whether or not sensitive user data such as credit card information has been compromised. There is also no timetable for when users can expect PSN to be back online as the outage nears one full week.

So, here is what PSN users are faced with,

1) Suspension of Services

2) No online play

3) Possibility that their personal information is now in the hands of criminals.

Yes…criminals. That is what hackers who violate a closed system are. Even though we tend to romanticize Hackers, they can cause a great deal of damage EVEN WHEN THEIR INTENTIONS ARE BENIGN. The simple fact is that once a hacker breaks into a closed system he/she has blazed a trail for anyone who happens to be hacking THEM. And of course not all hackers are good guys.

They ain’t all Neo!

Sony has become a target for suing tech heads who have done what is referred to as “jail breaking” their PS3 systems. This Jail breaking allows a user to do anything from running a new OS on the hardware to running homebrew applications like game emulators. Taken to the extreme jail breaking can enable a user to pirate a PS3 game.

You may not like Sony as a corporate monolith.

They may be arrogant in their dealings with the customer base.

They may not always pay attention to the voice of the online community.


They are completely within their rights to bring suit against people who make fundamental changes to their intellectual property. That does not mean they are right in their argument but that is for the courts and NOT hackers to decide.

Because of the emergence of the online Console network and cloud computing the argument of what you can do with your personal electronics takes on a whole new dimension. Where do your rights end and the rights of the community begin?

Is changing a device that you purchased but use on a network accessed by millions the same as making a back of a DVD that you purchased legally as a hedge against damage, or ripping your CD collection so you can play the songs on your iPod?

Do you have the right to change your PS3 in a fundamental way that COULD compromise the network and expose another user’s information to intrusion? Does a hacker even KNOW he is exposing the network to this sort of thing when he/she enables the console to run homebrew?
I can tell you this. Whenever you hook ANY computer into a network (and the Ps3 is a very powerful computer) there is the potential that any vulnerabilities inherent in that box COULD compromise the network.

How does Sony or for that matter Microsoft hedge against this vulnerability?

They create a CLOSED OS. It is the only way they can reasonably protect a network of 70 to 100 million users. Even with a closed OS and static hardware configuration, a network is vulnerable to attack. Imagine how much MORE vulnerable that network is when you have millions of consoles all with different configurations.

It seems to me that there IS a certain amount of responsibility to the larger community and that you do not have the right to change your system in any way that might compromise the security of other users. In any event that is a question for the courts and not a bunch of self important Hackers with delusions of bringing down the Matrix.

That’s 30!

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