Unhappy holidays awaited new Xbox One and PlayStation 4 owners last week.
Microsoft's Xbox Live service and Sony's PlayStation Network (PSN) were essentially knocked offline on Dec. 25 after a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack rendered them unreachable. Xbox Live and PSN provide online multiplayer and media services for the companies' respective game consoles. Both services have since been restored.
Groups that stage DDoS attacks typically marshal the resources of several computers, often as part of a botnet, to flood online services with traffic and overwhelm their servers. DDoS attacks have emerged as a major concern for online companies. In Verisign's third-quarter DDoS trends report, the security software specialist discovered that high-bandwidth attacks (10G bps and up) grew by 38 percent from the previous quarter and now account for 20 percent of all attacks.
Lizard Squad, a hacking group suspected of having a role in recently disconnecting North Korea from the Internet, claimed responsibility for the attacks on Microsoft and Sony in a series of provocative tweets. On Dec. 25, the group tweeted "Xbox Live #offline" followed by "PSN #offline" on its @LizardMafia account.
Commenting on the frustration felt by gamers who had received Xboxes and PlayStations as gifts, Lizard Squad then tweeted, "I wonder how many people tried to return their new console thinking it was broken."
The ordeal took a strange turn when another controversial online figure, Megaupload's Kim Dotcom pleaded with Lizard Squad to halt their attacks. "Asking Mega management to approve 3000 @MegaPrivacy premium vouchers for @LizardMafia if they stop attacking XBOX Live and PSN immediately," he tweeted on Dec. 25.
The gambit apparently worked. "Thanks @KimDotcom for the vouchers--you're the reason we stopped the attacks. @MegaPrivacy is an awesome service," replied Lizard Squad later that same day.
Microsoft acknowledged there was a service interruption on its Xbox Live status page and official Xbox Support Twitter account (@XboxSupport), but stopped short of providing a cause. "We're aware users are having issues logging into XBL [Xbox Live] & are actively working to resolve," the company tweeted on Dec. 25.
Catherine Jensen, vice president of consumer experience at Sony Computer Entertainment America, laid the blame on DDoS attackers.
"The video game industry has been experiencing high levels of traffic designed to disrupt connectivity and online gameplay," she wrote in a Dec. 27 blog post. "Multiple networks, including PSN, have been affected over the last 48 hours. PSN engineers are working hard to restore full network access and online gameplay as quickly as possible."
There's no need to return a seemingly non-cooperative PlayStation, she added. "If you received a PlayStation console over the holidays and have been unable to log on to the network, know that this problem is temporary and is not caused by your game console."