Saturday, May 14, 2011

Sony's Networks Inch Back Even as Players Defect

Sony's networks are inching back to life, with reports that services are available again for developers. The long-term effects on the company aren't clear, with anecdotal reports of PS3 owners switching to Microsoft's Xbox 360 even as Sony posted a 13 percent increase in video Relevant Products/Services-game hardware sales last month.

According to the NPD Group, Sony Computer Entertainment America sold 200,000 PlayStations in April, compared to about 180,000 a year ago. The outage, which hit the PlayStation Network, the Qriocity music service, and the Sony Online Entertainment network Relevant Products/Services, began April 20.

'Sorry Indeed'

Year over year, PS3 software sales increased 40 percent, according to the NPD Group. But the numbers are countered by multiple reports of users trading in PS3 consoles and games for the Xbox 360.

The relaunch of Sony's networks is apparently getting closer. A company post on a corporate message board said it was "sorry indeed" for the continuing outage, and added that a security Relevant Products/Services verification is currently under way. According to web reports, game testing and other functions for developers have resumed on the PlayStation Network.

Sony is also undertaking an effort to keep game publishers from drifting away. Sony Vice President Rob Dyer has sent publishers a letter assuring them that "it is Sony's top priority to restore our network operations and see that business is returned to usual as soon as possible."

His letter also provided more details about what happened and when. Dyer said that on Tuesday, April 19, engineers noticed that "several PlayStation Network servers unexpectedly rebooted themselves and that unplanned and unusual activity was taking place on the network."

Hiding Their Tracks

He said an internal team was mobilized, which found the "first credible indications that an intruder had been" in the PSN system, and six other servers were identified as possibly having been compromised. The company decided to shut down the network.

Dyer said forensic teams then confirmed "intruders had used very sophisticated and aggressive techniques to obtain unauthorized access, hide their presence from system administrators, and escalate privileges inside the servers." He added that the intruders deleted log files to hide their tracks. On May 1, Dyer said, the team at Sony Online Entertainment found data Relevant Products/Services had been removed from its servers, and that network's operations were also shut down.

The company has said it expects to restore services by the end of May. But the larger question is how long it will take Sony to restore its credibility.

Michael Gartenberg, research director at the Gartner Relevant Products/Services Group, said "it's difficult to tell at this point, given that events are unfolding in real time." In fact, he said, "it's the news cycle that wouldn't die."

Gartenberg added that, among other things, it's not yet clear how much consumers who might be making their first game-console purchase have been paying attention.

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