Hirai: Hacking threatens "the very fabric of society"

SCE boss claims online security requires govt assistance and legislation

Sony deputy president and PlayStation boss Kaz Hirai has claimed that online hacks pose a risk to society itself.

In an interview with the Guardian, Hirai said of the recent PSN security crisis that: "this isn't something that is a Microsoft issue or a Sony issue or limited to one or two companies. This is actually a lot bigger than that."

Observing that the likes of the FBI had also seen recent online security breaches, he felt that "It's large enough to the extent that we're talking about any and all companies, organisations and entities that deal in the online space – which is pretty much everyone at this stage, isn't it?

"It's a threat, not just to Sony or a couple of other companies, but to the very fabric of society. Therefore it requires individuals and companies to be very vigilant, which goes without saying, and we need help from various government, various enforcement agencies and legislation in certain instances as well. And this needs to be a worldwide effort."

Hirai also disputed that Sony had unnecessarily bided its timed before revealing the nature of the PSN outage to its users. "You can't just go out there and drop a statement like that without being able to answer some fundamental questions... So I don't think we "waited" a week. I think it took a week to make sure that we had, at least what we thought was enough information that was credible at the time before we made any announcements."

He claimed that the person or persons behind the PSN hack had not yet been identified, but that Sony was working with the FBI and other law organisations in the hope of tracking down the culprit.

In response to whether he believed smartphones and tablets posed a threat to the upcoming PSVita, Hirai argued that "We're catering to a completely different market," and that the PlayStation Suite for Android was Sony's answer to the rise of phone-based gaming.

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Latest comments (15)

Barry Scott Software Design 8 years ago
The laws exist to put people in jail for hacking into systems already.

Given the threat of jail time is not enough to stop the attacks on Sony and others
what does he think a government can do for them?

Sounds like defection of responsibility. Sony and others need to take security

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Josiah Jackson 3D Game Artist 8 years ago
The attacks on Sony were just the beginning, since this whole thing started Microsoft, Nintendo, and various other companies have been targeted. Hacking isn't a new thing, it has just been become popular in the news again. The government needs to step and create tighter security requirements for companies to follow for consumer protection. However with the house in the shape that it's in it is doubtful measures for bigger government will pass.

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Shifting the blame to the companies for being victimized only commends the hackers for their efforts. Eventually they will get around to your circle of security if measures aren't taken to stop them. These attacks can happen to anyone. The more security you have the less likely attacks will occur, but if someone wants it bad enough any system can be exploited.
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Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 8 years ago
Call me a trolling cynic, but when I think of "fabric of society", I think a little bit more of human rights, or democracy and a little less of PSN. If he is talking about the fabric of Sony's bottom line, he is certainly more correct, but why should the state protect it at all costs? Sony will have to protect its own perimeter, as nobody will want a state-sponsored system of totalitarian control over what people do with their computer, in exchange for protecting business interests. Even if some people venture deep into grey and dark areas, the general public is not going to accept being collectively punished for it by being monitored at all times.

For that Anonymous would have to use the Internet to collapse a few New York skyscrapers first. I would call that rather improbable, but I am sure somebody is going to serve me a disaster scenario involving New York drainage pumps and a Russian botnet.
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Philippe Ledru Consultant & Writer 8 years ago
If we're to invoke such grander principles — the very fabric of society — then perhaps it would be interesting to consider the whole situation.

The real damage of hacking is marginal, to say the least, on the whole of society. That it hinders the world GDP isn't even a fact, since the re-selling of hacked information may enrich some other companies (marketing, etc.). 'Society' doesn't mean Sony's shareholders only, it's a bit wider a picture.

On the other hand, the dominance of corporations over the legal part of the economy is a fact, and Sony is one giant. As Barry pointed out, the law is obviously on their side, and it's exactly why Hirai feels entitled calling for governments to take further action—reminds us of how music majors call for governments in trying to protect their aging business model, but that's another topic. Anyhow in this case it's a bit far-fetched from Hirai if you ask me, considering Sony were clearly lacking security from the inside: no government policy would have made their hacking harder or any less likely — except, perhaps, by teaching corporations how to better deal with their security and public relations, but then again, is that the government's job in the first place? Especially when you're not without knowing your status of big fish who made lots of enemies (the ones you'd rather not have) in the (recent) past?

I can love Sony for their hardware, but they're really thick when it comes to being honest about their behavior. They failed to defuse the threat by anticipation by not antagonizing the people who were able to attack them, despite numerous public 'statements' from various hackers of another kind (see below), and they failed to oppose sufficient security measures against an online threat, that they didn't even detect before dozens of hours when it happened. And yet they still hint today that the blame or the risk was/is global. It's not in Sony's case, because precisely, they were attacked, not Microsoft or Nintendo or Apple or Google.

Now there is the other aspect of hacking, the fight for a different model of society, online and elsewhere. Which Hirai seems to be confusing with the former, essentially economical hacking.
Anyway, we can observe 'political and informational attacks' as means of influence from both sides, but on different targets: corporations (try to) lock markets and customers altogether, using anything from smart strategies to shady legal tricks and overuse of the 'David vs Goliath' effect; whereas hackers (try to) do their stuff, hacking, against corporations to make 'statements'—but that's just it, statements, with no actual consequences besides a few days mess. That's what matters most: these so-called enemies just don't exist on the same scale. Hackers look like little drops waters with few to no effect on the bigger picture, an ocean of corporations. Ocean which happens to be ultimately owned and lead by a mere 1% of its participants, who might be the real targets of hackers.

The "hacker versus corporations" fight was simply lost from the beginning, and that's not even judging the underlying ideas but the actual means of advocating for change in society. Hackers lost at the very instant they set out to destroy instead of building, because we, as a whole, as the source of the law, oppose that principle.

Now, consider society as a whole, and its 1% of richest/most powerful individuals (shareholders, CEOs, elected officials…), and 1% of political hackers (I don't think we could find that many, but let's suppose for the sake of the argument): which is more susceptible to have a real effect on society?

Hence why I don't consider the "hacker threat" to be that dire. In building the online part of our civilization, I'd rather fear inter-governmental cyberwarfare, or individual privacy issues (hindered by some governments and some corporations) as condemned by the UN. I don't think Hirai realizes how Sony and leading corporations do shape the world much more than any would-be or veteran hacker ever could. It's systemic—of the very fabric of society.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Philippe Ledru on 9th June 2011 10:17pm

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Sounds like Sony is trying to shift blame again. Personally, I don't believe a "gaming device" needs to store any critical user information in the cloud - especially credit card details.
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Keldon Alleyne Strategic Keyboard Basher, Avasopht Development8 years ago
Nintendo's systems were hacked, but the hacking group notified Nintendo and publicly stated that they would never want to cause harm to Nintendo because they "like them too much".

What I've learned from this whole saga is that good PR is essential.

@Philippe: excellent article you've written ;) I will have to read that fully when I get back from work but I like the perspective you're drawn on the situation.
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Mihai Cozma Indie Games Developer 8 years ago
I heard something a while ago saying: "When a rule cannot be enforced through technology, make a political law to enforce it". If you think a bit, all rules that we are forced by law to obey today are there because there isn't any practical way to enforce it through technology. To support my theory, here are some examples:

Driving rules - if all vehicles would work on autopilot, signal to each other to avoid crashes and communicate with various road systems so they obey the rules automatically, there wouldn't be any need for law enforcement on our roads.

Anti software piracy rules - if the software distribution system would work in such a way (and there are already some implementations of such technology) that the software cannot be used without purchase, there would be no software piracy at all.

My point here is that if a solution to a problem found in a technological field is of a political nature instead of a technological nature, it is a sign of incompetence of the technical staff that should fix it.
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Christopher Hennen Designer 8 years ago
Hacking is truly a threat to our society. The society of business/finances, and society as a whole. Large scale breaches of information happen regularly, just yesterday Citi announced they had a breach and were alerting cardholders, Nintendo has also recently admitted a breach. This is becoming more and more commonplace and can affect everyone who has a bank account/credit card/enjoys online services.
Aside from financial and entertainment issues. Most power grids and utility systems are networked now with VPN type connections (at least idealy they are, but not always), but they are not immune to tampering by hackers. Almost every aspect of our lives is in some way or another connected to a computer which is connected to a network of other computers, this will continue to be truer and truer with every passing day and as that happens there will be more and more threats from hackers.
There are limitless scenarios which can be imagined out, but I think (I hope) Hirai was speaking to was that he wants governments continue to keep up to date with laws and countermeasures legally when dealing with these criminals.
I don't know what is in place right now, but I would hope developing legally enforceable minimum standards for protecting consumer/vital information would be in the government's thoughts as well.
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Doug McFarlane Co-Owner, KodeSource8 years ago
Klaus Preisinger: "state-sponsored system of totalitarian control over what people do" . . . "in exchange for protecting business interests"

Isn't that the definition of what politics is today? :)
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Mihai Cozma Indie Games Developer 8 years ago
@Christopher Hennen - you would have been totally right in your statement if you would have stopped to "society of business/finance", not as a whole. The only things these systems protect is the continuous consumption of goods and survival of certain businesses.

Don't confuse it with the internet as an information media, as you don't really need a credit card to use it like that. You can go pay your ISP, which in turns pays for its bandwidth and so on. The internet can exist as a hardware network with lots of free knowledge on it without any of this commercial stuff being pushed down our throats all the time.

I don't recall any recent attack on university networks, NASA or any other scientific and/or information projects, public or private, just attacks on commercial companies. I am not saying internet should not be used for commercial purposes, I'm just saying companies should protect themselves if they want to survive, not ask the government to help them by enforcing certain laws upon the common citizen, which stands next to other big abuses.

Having laws to protect you from let's say a murderer is fine, as you cannot do too much to protect yourself (think here most of the countries don't let the common citizen to legally own and carry guns ). However protection of a system connected to the internet can be achieved, so there should be no law protecting it by stripping the citizen of some of its rights.
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Tony Johns8 years ago
Be careful when asking the government to help you out. For they are nothing but people who got into power with a popularity contest and they don't know much about technology and any new laws that they could come up with will either not stop the hacking...or go too far and make life a far more restrictive on our own freedoms of speech and expression,

Having your system hacked into is bad, but having your own freedoms being eroded by government legislation is far more worse.

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Tony Johns8 years ago
And yet, hacking within itself is what the governments of the world do in order to hack into other countries computers in cyber warfare.
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Andrew Goodchild Studying development, Train2Game8 years ago
It's funny that when Sony used interactive elements on music CDs to surrepticiously install spyware onto home PCs, they didn't see this as akin to hacking. It may not have been achieved with the same implementation, but it had similer goals.
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Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 8 years ago
@ Doug McFarlane
I guess you caught me there. :D
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Paul Shirley Programmers 8 years ago
@Mihai Cozma:"I don't recall any recent attack on university networks, NASA or any other scientific and/or information projects, public or private, just attacks on commercial companies"

You may not recall but NASA was in fact very recently successfully hacked and universities are under continuous attack (mostly by their own students) as are most large companies. It's important to distinguish between attempted hacks and successful hacks. Approximately 100% of attempted hacks fail.

What Hirai wants us to believe is that being attacked is somehow highly unusual, when in fact it's everyday reality, something everyone should assume will happen and plan for on that basis. Sony aren't in so much trouble because they were targeted. It's not even that the attack was successful. There problem is in doing too little to protect their systems and apparently bugger all to mitigate the effects of being successfully breached.

There's a very real need for more law to protect society from hacking, but not the unenforceable, self serving nonsense Sony want. The apparent rise in reported hacking success has a lot to do with the growing understanding that corporations have failed miserably to protect themselves or their customers and the gradual introduction of laws forcing them to disclose that failure. Sony may well have triggered this by provoking ideologically motivated attacks but they should have had protections in place against explicitly criminal attack that would have mitigated the damage anyway.

We need protecting from complacent, incompetent guardians of data more than some impossible crusade against hacking.
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