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Crap security lands Sony £250k fine for PlayStation Network hack

Leak of millions of Brits' sensitive info preventable, says ICO

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Sony has been fined £250,000 ($395k) for allowing million of UK gamers’ details to be spilled online by PlayStation Network hackers.

The UK's Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) levied the heavy fine against Sony Computer Entertainment Europe for a serious breach of the Data Protection Act.

Personal information of millions of Brits - including their names, addresses, email addresses, dates of birth and account passwords - were swiped by hackers who broke into systems running the PlayStation Network (PSN) in April 2011. The data watchdog added that credit card details were also at risk.

Sony blamed Anonymous or a section of the hacktivist collective for the attack, but Anonymous denied any involvement. The group admitted launching denial-of-service attacks on various Sony websites, but who was behind the PSN breach remains unclear or at least unproven.

An ICO investigation concluded that the database raid could have been prevented if Sony had applied the latest security patches to its systems' software had and followed best practice guidelines in password security - such as hashing and salting credentials. The conclusions fall into line with earlier technical analysis of the breach by security specialists.

David Smith, deputy commissioner and director of data protection at the ICO, said in a statement on the fine:

If you are responsible for so many payment card details and log-in details then keeping that personal data secure has to be your priority. In this case that just didn’t happen, and when the database was targeted – albeit in a determined criminal attack – the security measures in place were simply not good enough.

There’s no disguising that this is a business that should have known better. It is a company that trades on its technical expertise, and there’s no doubt in my mind that they had access to both the technical knowledge and the resources to keep this information safe.

Smith described the case as "one of the most serious ever reported" to the ICO in explaining the bumper fines. "It directly affected a huge number of consumers, and at the very least put them at risk of identity theft," he concluded.

Sony rebuilt the PSN in the wake of the breach to ensure its network is more secure. The entertainment giant has repeatedly apologised for the massive breach, which made it a poster child for system insecurity. The raid may have had some positive effects in promoting greater awareness of securing passwords and patching among consumers and large corporations.

The breach resulted in a five-week outage of the PSN as Sony drafted in security experts to resolve the resulting mess. This cost an estimated $171m, making the UK data breach fine small change by comparison. A chunk of this multi-million-dollar bill probably footed generous welcome back packages and compensation to gamers rather than security consultant fees and costs for extra technology, but Sony has never provided a detailed breakdown on this point. ®

Bootnote

The ICO can fine an organisation up to £500K for data security breaches. The Sony fine is among the heaviest ever levied but is not a record. "It’s not a record fine - it's one of our biggest monetary penalties, but Brighton and Sussex NHS Trust was fined £325k and the recent text message fine came to a total of £440k," an ICO spokesman explained. Hard drives from the Brighton trust were sold on eBay instead of being destroyed or at least wiped. Sensitive data left on the computer kit included STD test results as well as the names and dates of birth of more than 1,500 HIV positive patients.

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