PSN Down: Another Strike Against the Cloud

Around the time that Amazon’s Cloud services began to have its lengthy downtime, another popular service went down as well – the PlayStation Network (PSN). Used by millions of PS3 owners to play games online, download digital content and connect with friends, the PSN has been, for many, a core part of the PS3 experience.

At first, many thought that the two outages were related, that Amazon’s trouble were impacting Sony. However, long after Amazon got its network back online, the PSN was still down. In fact, now a week later, the PSN is still down with no signs of coming back any time soon.

However, it gets worse: Sony has also been forced to admit that the outage is related to security issues and that consumer data has probably been stolen, including name, address, country, email, birthday and PSN login information. Credit card and other critical information may also have been compromised, though they can’t prove it at this time.

This is a second major and very public blow against cloud services; one of the largest tech companies in the world has an embarrassing cloud failure, both in terms of technology and in terms of how the tech failure was handled. Sadly, and unlike the Amazon failure, there doesn’t seem to be any fast recovery in site for this failure.

We need to understand what happened, why its important and what can be done to help the cloud recover from its second major black eye in a week.

What Happened to the PSN

Sony has been extremely tight-lipped about what exactly happened to the PSN though there is at least one person who is knowledgeable with a theory. A staff member at a popular PS3 modding site has said he believes that the shut down is related to a new PS3 firmware released by hackers recently.

Hackers recently found ways to install new operating systems or “jailbreak” the PS3. These new firmwares are used to do everything from simply install Linux on the device to play pirated games.

However, one such firmware, entitled REBUG, is different. It was released on the last day of March and enables users to access various developer features on the PSN, including bringing previously banned consoles online and playing games in developer-only channels.

Slowly though, users of the firmware began to explore its features and discovered that they could also download free content from the developer channels and access other users’ information.

According to this unverified theory, this is what prompted Sony to shut down the PSN and work to re-secure its network against the hack, while also trying to glean just how serious the leak is.

But regardless of what brought down the PSN, it is a serious blow for cloud and cloud services. The reason is not so much the fact people can’t play their games online, but because of how the downtime happened, who it happened to and what the results of it have been.

Why Is It a Serious Blow to the Cloud?

The PSN, along with XBOX Live and Steam, are two of the most recognized and commonly-used examples of cloud-based services. Millions of people connect to the PSN daily and its extended outage is affecting them directly, now for over a week. In many ways this outage is far, far worse for the cloud than Amazon’s downtime, even if it hasn’t attracted the same news coverage.

There are three critical reasons this one could be such a long-term PR disaster for cloud-based services.

  1. It’s Sony: Sony is one of the largest and most trusted tech companies on the planet. Where few people, outside of tech circles, knew that Amazon did cloud hosting, everyone sees Sony as a tech company with its hands in many areas.
  2. It’s a Security Breach: Amazon’s outage did not put users’ personal information at risk. This intrusion into the PSN did.
  3. Sony’s Handling of the Outage: Though Amazon took flak for being quiet about the cause of its outage, Sony is being far worse, saying little about what caused it and waiting many days to warn customers of the possible data leak.

While it’s bad enough to say that the cloud can’t be relied upon because Amazon had an extended outage, it’s worse to say that it’s insecure and can’t be trusted with personal data or even for the least-critical of services, such as leisure.

Even worse, if the theory on why the network is down turns out to be true (ie. it wasn’t some complicated cyberattack, but a few consoles with unauthorized firmware) then it’s something almost anyone could do.

If this doesn’t scare people away from relying on or entrusting their information to cloud-based services, not a lot will.

Moving Forward

How quickly other cloud-based services are going to recover from this outage depends on how well Sony handles it. So far their track record has not been very good.

Sony has kept users in the dark, held back critical information and not been at all forthcoming about the nature of the problem.

For the cloud to be trusted it also has to be transparent. Right now, users don’t trust Sony and that distrust is going to spill over to other services.

To counter this, companies are going to have to show that they are NOT Sony (or Amazon) and that they can be completely forthright about what’s happening when something goes wrong.

Perhaps a smaller company is going to have better luck at this feat than a larger one. Though I don’t think that Sony is being “evil” by withholding this information, they aren’t releasing it quickly because it has to pass through so many layers to get to the public. A smaller company won’t have these obstacles and can respond more quickly to these kinds of issues.

Unfortunately, as with Amazon’s outage, it will be other often smaller companies that wind up suffering the most and may, in the end, be the ones to pay for Sony’s mistakes. Sony will survive in the toxic climate it may create for cloud services, but others won’t be so lucky.

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