Controversial

Gamers Vs. Hackers — For The Holidays

Planning on doing any gaming this Christmas?

You won’t be able to if a certain hacker collective gets its way (as one did last year).

Microsoft and Sony are gearing up to defend their Xbox Live and PlayStation Network (PSN) servers, respectively, in light of threats from a group calling itself Phantom Squad to shut them down for the holiday.

On Dec. 9, Phantom Squad posted the following tweet (since deleted):

“We are going to shut down Xbox live and PSN this year on christmas. And we are going to keep them down for one week straight #DramaAlert”

Before the Twitter account attributed to Phantom Squad was suspended, the group posted a series of follow-ups to its threat, including attesting that the purpose of bringing down the networks would be to draw attention to the weakness of both Microsoft’s and Sony’s online security. A Dec. 13 tweet from Phantom Squad stated outright that “cyber security” at the two companies “does not exist.”

Microsoft and Sony have reason to take the threats seriously, given that shutting down their gaming networks — the two largest in the world — is precisely what another hacker group did last Christmas, after weeks of warning that it would do so, utilizing distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks (which overwhelm targets with phony Internet traffic).

That group — which reportedly consists mostly of teenagers (millennials: getting it done!) — was (and is) called Lizard Squad, and while it attests that it is not affiliated with Phantom Squad — in fact referring to the upstart group as “wannabes” — it does believe that the latter collective has the capability to make good on its threats.

“Right now, they’re just empty threats, but it’s very possible [that the attack will happen],” a member of Lizard Squad told Wired. “One of the guys [from Phantom Squad] is a friend of ours [Lizard Squad’s], and he probably does have the resources.”

Setting aside the question of just how many hacker “squads” are out there (is Taylor Swift’s one of them? Probably not. But who knows — that girl is errywhere #SquadGoals) and which is or is not associated with another, Phantom Squad proved its illicit mettle (at least in part) last week, taking credit for a DDoS attack that shut down Xbox Live from late Thursday night to Friday morning (Dec. 17–18). In one of its final tweets, Phantom Squad referred to that incident as a “test attack,” intimating that it was done in preparation for the Christmas assault on both Xbox Live and PSN.

As Microsoft and Sony learned in last year’s attack, Christmas is a particularly bad time for their gaming servers to fail, as it’s a day when potentially millions of people will be hooking up their just-received Xbox Ones and PS4s for their inaugural plays.

Beyond the simply embarrassing optics that can result from the major global corporations having been outfoxed by a group of anonymous teenagers, unhappy gamers can lead to brand abandonment — perhaps an even more likely outcome should Microsoft and/or Sony prove not to have learned anything from last year’s attack and get burned a second time.

A Lizard Squad member told The Daily Dot last year that there was essentially no reason that companies with the scope and resources of those in question should not be able stop attacks on their gaming servers, claiming that successfully doing so comes down to “programming skill.”

And Kim Dotcom — the Internet entrepreneur who brokered a deal with Lizard Squad to end its attack last year — recently took to Twitter to express the majority sentiment among gamers that there will be no excuses if Microsoft and/or Sony fail to protect themselves this Christmas.

In addition to the potential adverse affects to their respective bottom lines that the companies could suffer in the long term, it’s arguable that Microsoft — whose Xbox One trails PlayStation 4 in terms of sales — has even immediately more to lose from the Xbox Live network going down on Christmas Day. Not only would that prevent users from playing and purchasing games for use on the console, but the company would also be losing money beyond that of gaming retail because people wouldn’t be able shop on its virtual mall, either.

And if a person can’t spend his or her Christmas Day playing video games, buying video games or shopping for new clothes, what is he or she supposed to do?

Form a new hacking squad, maybe. Those are so hot right now.

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