UPDATED! PSN network failure: What happened, who's to blame and when it'll get fixed
26th Apr 2011 | 11:32
Right now, '80710a06' is hotter than Cheryl Cole and Wayne Rooney - if not quite as popular as Rebecca Black. This seemingly random collection of letters and numbers is one of the hottest search terms on the internet - sorry Cheryl - and the greatest source of frustration to gamers since, er, 8001050F - the last time PlayStation 3 (PS3) suffered a major network error, on that occasion related to its internal clock. What's going on? Who's to blame? When will you play PS3 online again? Read on to find out. ***UPDATED: New statement from Sony below, confirming that hackers *may* have accessed your personal information***
'80710a06' is the error message you receive when you try to sign into your PlayStation Network account (PSN) on your PS3, which has now been inactive since Weds 20th April - almost six days already. While you can still use your PS3 for offline gaming and watching Blu-rays, no-one can access the PSN store to buy games, rent videos or download DLC. Services such as LoveFilm and Qriocity are also off limits. Worst of all, it's now impossible to play games online, from Call of Duty: Black Ops to recent releases like Portal 2 and Mortal Kombat.
The big questions that need answering
Why has PSN gone down? Who's responsible? What are Sony doing about it? And, of course, when will you be able to use the PSN network again? We've got all the answers you need, if not the ones you want to hear.
Around 9pm UK time, Tues 26th April, Sony released a new statement confirming personal details may have been taken from PSN, potentially including credit card details. Full statement here, including Sony's recommendations for what you do next.
Who - or what - is responsible?
The common consensus - if not the truth - is that Sony were forced to shut down PSN due to the activity of a hacking group called Anonymous, who believe in the freedom of the internet and attack select companies believed to be limiting freedoms or acting too much like 'The Man'. For example, they famously orchestrated a series of digital attacks on the Church of Scientology, and more recently supported Wikileaks by attacking companies they perceived to be *against* Wikileaks, such as Mastercard.
A more detailed background on Anonymous and their (h)activities can be found here.
Why would they attack Sony and PSN?
This is a more complex, slightly boring story, but in short they're defending George Hotz. He made himself famous by hacking the iPhone (see a 17-year-old Hotz interviewed on US channel CNBC here and, most recently, PlayStation 3 - a console once considered 'unbreakable'. While Hotz claims piracy was not his intention, his 'jailbreak' hack opened up PS3 to the spread of pirated games and 'custom' firmware; allowing smart, dedicated hackers to get PS3 to do pretty much what they want (well, within the machine's capabilities, so no one's hacked a PS3 to do the dishes yet... as far as we know). Hacked PS3s run emulators of SNES and other vintage consoles, plus custom media players that run .mkv files - the web's preferred HD movie format.
While Hotz wasn't responsible for *all* the piracy (or indeed any of it), or the activity of other hacking groups, he was the 'jailbreak' figurehead, and by being so vocal and provocative (at one stage issuing this incredible rap video claiming Sony were 'fucking with the dude who got the keys to your safe' and claiming 'I'm a personification of freedom for all'; a video that's attracted over 1.7 million YouTube views), he brought down the full might of Sony's legal team, who seemed hell-bent on closing Hotz down. So intent, in fact, that at times Sony seemed to be using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. Bottom line: Hotz settled in court with Sony but Anonymous were unhappy with Sony's clamping down on freedoms, and moved to support Hotz.
"You have now received the undivided attention of Anonymous. Your recent legal action against our fellow hackers GeoHot and Graf_Chokolo has not only alarmed us, it has been deemed wholly unforgivable. You have victimized your customers for merely possessing information, and continue to target every person who seeks this information. In so doing you have violated the privacy of thousands."
Or so it was assumed, but Anonymous deny any involvement with the PSN outage, in yet another spectacular video.
Truth told, the very nature of Anonymous makes it hard to attribute blame in the Miss Marple 'whodunnit' sense - unless they can get its myriad globe-spanning members into some kind of virtual drawing room.
So who *is* responsible? And what's Sony's explanation?
All Sony have confirmed is that PSN is down due to an 'external intrusion', as outlined by Sony Communications Chief Patrick Seybold. Whether it's Anonymous or whoever, *someone* has clearly hacked into PSN, creating a security/service delivery problem too big for Sony to ignore - so they've been forced to pull the plug.
So the real reason is...
An article on Reddit seems to offer the most credible explanation of why PSN is down, and this tallies with industry rumours and various off-the-record chats. In short: somebody worked out how to get PSN content for free, and increasing amounts of people were helping themselves to free games, as CVG reports .
Further rumours suggest hackers may have had access to PSN personal details and - most worryingly - credit card details, but the risk 'isn't substantial', claims Ars Technica (via CVG). We're yet to hear of a single case of credit card theft, and it does seem an unlikely scenario, given how unpopular it would make the noble 'freedom of speech' Anonymous cause.
***UPDATE: Well, it looks like personal information has been taken but, so far, no one is reporting a credit card theft. See the full Sony statement for more details****
What are Sony doing about it?
After the initial announcement by Seybold, the only other update from Sony is this: "We will announce through our websites as soon as there are any updates. We are currently investigating to determine the cause of this outage and are working to restore and maintain the services. Since this is an overall security related issue, we will not be providing further commentary for this case."
From what we understand, Sony will be issuing a formal statement via Japan soon, but since the PSN is effectively being rebuilt to tighten its security, the company is loathe to commit to a time-scale for when PSN will be back online. We're guessing/hoping this is a case of the classic 'under-promise and over-deliver' PR strategy, so the rumours about an indefinite delay actually result in only another day or so without PSN.
What's the real damage to Sony and PS3?
Six days without PSN support is a huge inconvenience for PS3 owners, but given that the service is essentially free (bar the minority of PS+ subscribers), and that the outage is due to factors beyond Sony's control, it's hard to be too critical. You could, of course, trace everything back to Sony's excessive force in chasing down Hotz, plus the earlier hacker-baiting removal of Linux/Other O/S support. Sony's insistence on control has come back to bite them, is the poetically lyrical conclusion.
Of course, it's entirely possible this could have happened irrespective of the full chain of events, and Sony are doing the best they can - fixing it, and trying to prevent such a spectacular outage in the future. They've done a reasonable job of keep PS3 owners updated, even if most 'casual' gamers will simply be wondering what's going on, despite the tens of thousands of words already written about the outage. In the wider context, many will simply shrug and play a single player game. But if the dead air continues for over a week, the embarrassment increases and more fingers will inevitable be pointed at Sony.
As ever, there's scope for Sony to turn this into a positive story by, say, rewarding PS+ owners with a free week/month of service - or, better yet, giving *every* PS3 owner a month of PS+ content for free. Whether Sony would countenance such a grand gesture is another story, but we can hope.
Has the PSN outage affected game sales? It's interesting to note that Portal 2 sold more on Xbox 360 than PS3 this weekend, although - to be fair - this is pattern with almost all new releases, from Homefront to Bulletstorm to Crysis 2. The only peculiarity is that Mortal Kombat outsold Portal 2 on PS3, but not on Xbox... but this could be down to Valve's traditional link to PC/Microsoft, or any number of other factors. Perhaps PS3 owners are just *really excited* about playing as Kratos in Mortal Kombat. Right? Who's with us?
A brief Twitter poll suggests PSM3/CVG followers bought Portal 2 on PS3 as intended, paying little attention to the PSN outage and the fact they can't yet play online co-op. This is a selection of your replies when we asked if you'd bought the 360 version in preference:
@thespiritofjazz HELL NO! I was told the PS3 version was the best one for consoles, so that's what I got. Plus my copy for my pc or mac!
@radharc Portal 2 doesn't need the PSN to be online, though. Single player campaign is brilliant and you can split-screen co-op
@Evil_Steve No, but I purchased Dragon Age 2 on X360 for that reason
@K1llerZero I bought Mortal Kombat on 360 because of the PSN issue, I was gonna buy it on PS3 but meh...
@vivekrughani PS3 is the smart choice. Just wait till PSN is back, just wait and wait and wait...
@CarBoyCam I still bought it on PS3. The PSN won't be down forever... *crosses fingers*
We wait. We keep playing single-player games. Or watch a Blu-ray. Or the TV. Or - heaven forbid - go outside and soak up the sun. Or... you get the idea. The true extent of the 'damage' will make itself clear subject to the length of the delay, and (mostly) depending on how smoothly PSN runs after its rebuild. Repeated and frequent outages as a result of piracy would definitely lead to PR/commercial damage, and benefit Xbox 360 most directly.
Still, anyone remember when Xbox Live went down for a week in 2007? Exactly. Sony don't come out of this with glory, but they are probably guilty of greater sins - such as the lack of decent PS Move games, the PSN pricing structure and its inherent monopoly, the false start of PSP Go... and SixAxis... take your best shot.
Even so, none of this is anywhere near as big an issue as Xbox 360's RROD (Red Ring of Death) failure - anecdotally, our office's Xbox journalists pin the failure rate on Xbox consoles between 30-60%, and almost everyone we know has had a 360 conk out at some stage - or even PS3's own YLOD (Yellow Light of Death).
Hopefully, BPSNO (Brief PSN Outage) is just that, and 80710a06 fails to attract Google searches in quite the same continuing volume as Cheryl Cole.
What do you think?
What do you think of the PSN outage? Do you think Sony have behaved commendably in the circumstances? How much has it really affected you? Do you think it will cause real long term damage? We'd love to hear your thoughts below, or on Twitter via @PSM3_Magazine.