All Hail the Lizard People!

Why the Lizard Squad did us all a favor knocking out console gaming’s two biggest online services was a good thing for gamers, and the lasting effects of the events that unfolded over the Christmas week.


T’was the night before Christmas and all through the house not a creature was stirring except, well, Lizard Squad. December 24th, Christmas Eve late in the afternoon, the hacker group Lizard Squad began a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack on the Xbox Live and PlayStation Network services. The attack, which would be like refreshing a webpage in a rapid, more complicated manner, knocked both of the services down by Christmas. They kept it down until internet entrepreneur turned activist, Kim Dotcom negotiated with the group to stop the attacks so service could resume on both services.

The above tweet by game developer Jesse Snyder of Call of Duty and Halo fame, probably sums up the interactions that many of us had with our family on Christmas Day. By late in the day, my own family was watching “The Interview” but not before I hopped on Xbox Live to play a few games of Halo 4 on Xbox 360 to see if the service was up and running yet. It had seemed that by then the service was working for 360 and a few hours later PS3 as Microsoft and Sony managed to keep the attacks off of the older consoles. As my daughter was napping, I decided to have some fun with the situation and posted a few humorous tweets on the matter:

Something interesting happened that day, gamers on all consoles united as one on Twitter. No longer were we worried about screen resolutions and which controller was better, but rather that we all had a common thread, that we all just wanted to play online together. Many others posted their own humorous images and memes about what was going on as a way to keep us occupied while we itched to play our new titles and spend our gift cards.

By nightfall, almost all services were up and running and by Saturday, PSN on PlayStation 4 services were restored. So besides brining us all closer together for the holidays via Twitter what else good did this bring us? It brought us proof that Sony and Microsoft aren’t ready for the future of online gaming just yet despite spending millions on infrastructure. What proof is there? The next day after Lizard Squad had completed their auspicious trolling they began to attack the non-profit Tor Project, a service that essentially keeps it’s users identity and network a secret. This could be used for nefarious reasons but it many countries with oppressive laws, is used as a way to communicate amongst people that are seeking outside help. While people representing Lizard Squad have denied such attacks, a Twitter representing hacktivist group Annonymous thought otherwise:

So if this were true, this would mean despite an effort as large as the effort was to take down Microsoft’s Xbox Live, and Sony’s PlayStation Network, Lizard Squad was unable to take down a small non-profit organization formed by some of the best minds in IT. It is likely Lizard Squad is claiming they never intended to take the network down, simply because they couldn’t. Unlike Anonymous, Lizard Squad’s methods seem to be less sophisticated. Even if they didn’t try to take down Tor, the fact still remains: a couple of guys spread across Europe were able to take down two of the biggest online networks in the world, on arguably the biggest day of the year for both of them.

So How Was This A Good Thing?!

This isn’t a new occurence for either company. While in the past it was excusable for Sony to have such outages be it through nefarious means or having legitimately high traffic to their services, Sony now follows a pay model similar to Microsoft’s charging a set amount yearly to use PSN on PlayStation 4 for online gaming. Still, it should be no surprise considering Sony’s tough month in general with its companies various IT departments. It’s even more alarming however that it has happened to Microsoft, a company that has based it’s entire future on cloud computing in general.

Another way of looking at it, is you bought your movie ticket to go see the next Avengers or Star Wars movie and you are waiting in line with everyone else outside, only to find out that the UPS truck delivering the film reel blew a tire and wouldn’t make it there to the next day. You don’t care if it was the movie theatres fault or not, they need to make it right. The first thing the theatre would do is apologize, offer you a free popcorn, and then start using FedEx or some other measures to make sure the film got there on time and you got what you paid for.

What Microsoft and Sony Should Do About It

In this case the movie theatres are obvious Microsoft and Sony. The free popcorn would be a month of their service free or a free game, and the firing of UPS for FedEx would be coming up with better countermeasures for these kinds of things.

The first time I recall Microsoft having trouble with Xbox Live was in 2007, shortly after the release of Halo 3 and Call of Duty 4 and in Christmas week as well! Microsoft was quick to apologize to all users, gave us all a free month of Xbox Live and since then the service has been solid for the most part. What makes this attack worse, is Lizard Squad warned Microsoft and Sony that they were going to do this weeks before. What happens when a more sophisticated group is able to do this and then grab our information? Perhaps Microsoft and Sony needs to look at their data usage of the peak periods, and put more servers, money, and resources up during those times. Microsoft and Sony relies on keeping the cutomers trust and if they want to take their services to the next level (ie cloud gaming) they are going to have to keep convincing us why their services are worth the fifty dollars or so a year on top of the ISP we each respectively pay for already. It is especially important that Microsoft and Sony apologize for the outages to all of their customers, especially because many of them probably have no idea that Lizard Squad was doing this in the first place, and may have thought they were doing something wrong or it was specifically something Microsoft and Sony were doing to their own services.

Follow me on Twitter and let me know your thoughts. With that said, I leave you with this short, embarrassing Christmas music video that sums up what happened in about ten seconds:

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