Worst over? Hackers claim responsibility for gamers’ offline misery

Updated 7:02 PM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
03:24 - Source: CNN
PlayStation, Xbox users forced offline

Story highlights

NEW: PlayStation, Xbox had 'network issues' well into Friday

Hacker group 'Lizard Squad' has claimed responsibility

Lizard Squad has a history of going after Sony

In August, it may have managed to divert a flight carrying Sony exec

(CNN) —  

A Sony executive said Saturday that a cyberattack was to blame for the network woes that have been plaguing PlayStation and others since Christmas Day.

Neither Sony or Microsoft, which own PlayStation and Xbox, respectively, have had much to say about the outages that have kept millions of its gamers from playing one another online, but there were signs Friday evening that it may soon be resolved.

At 2:16 a.m Friday, Microsoft’s verified @XboxSupport account tweeted “Some Xbox One users may currently be experiencing issues signing into Xbox Live,” and directed users to its service website for the latest.

Sony’s official PlayStation support Twitter account posted at 2:30 a.m. ET, “Our engineers are continuing to work hard to resolve the network issues users have experienced today. Thanks for your continued patience.”

More than 14 hours later, at 5:10 p.m, it tweeted pretty much the same thing. “Update: We are working to restore full network services for all platforms – thanks, as always, for your patience!

But based on the overall sentiment expressed in the comments posted to message boards and on Twitter, the collective patience among PlayStation users is offline as well.

“@AskPlayStation has been tweeting that for hours now since last night,” user christopha710 posted on Sony’s PlayStation 4 support forum. “I’m getting rid of this piece of trash and going back too [sic] pc gaming”

“Totally not cool,” allenjaelee said late Friday morning. “I’ve tried so many times and am unable to play.”

Sony hacked again?

Some users talked of a possible hack.

“This is so frustrating,” wrote calin75. “The hackers think they’re hurting Sony, but the ones that really pay for this bull crap are the innocent users.”

If it turns out that this was indeed a cyberattack, chances are it was done by Lizard Squad, a band of black-hat hackers who have claimed responsibility.

CNN cannot confirm the identity or claims of the group, and PlayStation hasn’t said anything beyond that it was working to fix the problem. For its part, Xbox spokesman Sean McCarthy told CNN that “we don’t share info on the root cause of specific issues.”

But there is little reason to doubt their claims.

In August, Lizard Squad said it took down the PlayStation Network by flooding it with illegitimate traffic, something called a distributed denial-of-service attack (DDoS) in the video game world, resulting in millions of gamers being unable to play together online.

As CNNMoney reported at the time, when John Smedley, president of Sony Online Entertainment, tweeted about those “large scale” attacks, he became a Lizard Squad target himself – even at 30,000 feet.

“We have been receiving reports that @j_smedley’s plane #362 from DFW to SAN has explosives on-board, please look into this,” the group tweeted to American Airlines, resulting in the flight being diverted.

Earlier this month, Sony was again hit with a similar outage. Lizard Squad not only took credit for that one too, but it promised more “Christmas presents” would soon be coming. “Unlike Santa, we don’t like giving all of our Christmas presents out on one day. This entire month will be entertaining,” Lizard Squad tweeted.

At 6:13 p.m. Friday, a Lizard Squad twitter handle tweeted, “ALL ATTACKS ON PSN AND XBOX HAVE STOPPED.” When a CNN reporter hit refresh moments later on the Sony Entertainment Network website – which had been down since Thursday evening – it was back online. Microsoft’s service page was still reporting ‘limited service,’ however.

Stupid coincidence?

The network downtime started just hours after Microsoft’s Xbox video store started to stream the Seth Rogen comedy “The Interview.” The movie was made by Sony Pictures, a sibling of Sony’s PlayStation division.

Sony was the victim of a massive cyberattack in late November that was widely believed to be motivated, at least in part, by North Korea’s anger over “The Interview,” which depicts the assassination of the country’s leader Kim Jong Un.

But there was no indication that Thursday’s problems were in any way connected to the movie’s digital release.

Other participating distributors of the movie, such as YouTube, were unaffected. And PlayStation is not participating in the release.

A Sony Pictures spokesman deferred to PlayStation for comment about the outage.

CNN’s Ben Brumfield, Steve Almasy, Brian Stelter and Tony Marco contributed to this report.