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Why Does Sony Keep Getting Hacked?

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Since the April PlayStation Network breach that exposed over 100 million user accounts, Sony has been hacked more than 10 times. Sony Pictures, Sony Europe, Sony BMG Greece, Sony Thailand, Sony Music Japan, Sony Ericcson Canada, and others, have all been the target of attacks.

Sony has had to contend with intense scrutiny from media, disgruntled users and lawmakers, with everyone asking the company how it could let such a breach happen. Sony has apologized repeatedly and said that the original attack was a highly professional, criminal cyber attack aimed at stealing credit card numbers. Other experts have said that Sony simply didn't have its security act together and that the attack was likely far simpler. Now, critics are wondering what exactly the motivation might be behind the continued hacks.

While the initial PlayStation Network breach was the largest of the hacks to date, Sony's cyber attack problem has continued due to both inconsistent security across Sony's systems and the rise of new groups of hackers interested less in punishing Sony than in showing off their ability to breach the company's defenses, experts say.

Some analysts say Sony's security woes started when the company pressed charges against 20 year-old hacker, George Hotz, who reverse-engineered Sony’s PlayStation 3 so that it could run unapproved third-party applications.

Sony responded by suing Hotz, a move that reportedly infuriated many in the hacker community. Many experts say the attack on the PlayStation Network in April could have been an act of vilgilante justice resulting directly or indirectly from Sony's lawsuit against Hotz.

"Sony's perceived abuse of the legal system in targeting reverse-engineer George Hotz infuriated hacker groups," said Randy Abrams, director of technical education at ESET, an IT security firm. Abrams also noted that even before the Hotz incident, Sony had drummed up "significant antipathy" as the result of a 2005 scandal involving Sony CDs that automatically installed a rootkit that made users' computers vulnerable to attack.

The PlayStation Network attack appears to have set off an avalanche of follow-ups.

"Other hackers and hacking groups realized they could jump on the bandwagon and break into other Sony properties and get in the news," said Richard Wang, manager of Sophos Labs, a security vendor. "Really anything that has the Sony brand on it has become a target for someone trying to make a name for themselves or trying to prove they can break into the website."

Fred Cate, director of the Center for Applied Security Research at the University of Indiana, said the first PlayStation Network breach may have tempted hackers by revealing Sony as open to attack.

"There's sort of a pile-on effect," Cate said. "Once you hear that there's a vulnerable network out there, other folks start trying. Sony's now a new target of interest."

Other hackers seem to have joined up for reasons other than political or monetary gain. Sites like hassonybeenhackedthisweek.com demonstrate a curious mixture of genuine curiosity and weary cultural saturation.

"Prior to the PSN hack, the loosely organized Anonymous group had waged war against Sony, reflecting the opinion of a significant share of netizens who got infuriated by Sony's corporate attitude," said Guillaume Lovet, a senior manager of the threat response team at Fortinet. "But now, from being a target for opinion reasons only, it also became a target 'just for the lulz,' for [hacker group] lulzsecurity and others."

"The outcome," Lovet said, "is more attackers, thus more successful hacks."

Some critics have questioned whether Sony's security efforts both before and after the initial breaches have been adequate. Sony has since promised to boost its security systems and review existing procedures. Still, according to experts, many of the attacks used to breach Sony's sites are fairly basic hacks that the company could easily have protected against.

"They seemingly have an almost anarchistic approach to global network security, with no visible coordination of security practices across Internet properties," said Abrams. "Some properties, such as Sony Pictures, seem to have been ignoring basic security best practices."

Part of the problem is Sony’s huge international web presence. Experts say its highly unlikely that the company's multiple divisions, from movies to gaming, are following any coordinated set of security protocols.

"Sony has disclosed many breaches, including different servers in Indonesia and Thailand. I highly doubt that the same developers who developed these websites are the same developers who worked on the Playstation Network, Sony Pictures, etc.,” said Derek Manky, a senior security strategist at Fortinet. "Quite simply, there is a tradeoff: Security dwindles as you add convenience and complexity."

While the novelty of hacking Sony may continue to diminish as other cybersecurity stories hit the news, it's clear Sony must get its act together or risk more attacks, a loss of customer faith and money and possible government intervention.

"Sony needs time to get their security house in order," Jeremiah Grossman, the CTO of WhiteHat Security wrote in an email. "As an organization, Sony could see this as an opportunity. A year or more from now, they could be an example of how security SHOULD be done across the entire industry."

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