No-Xbox Xmas? Anonymous Hackers Threaten Gaming Network Takedowns

Want to make gamers unhappy this holiday season? Take down the Playstation Network and Xbox Live platforms on Christmas. It happened last year thanks to a group called Lizard Squad, and according to SecurityWeek, there’s a new team of hackers out to make a name for itself this year. This one’s called Phantom Squad — apparently no relation to the Lizards — and it threatened to cripple both gaming networks for a week come Dec. 25.

While the motives of these anonymous hackers aren’t clear beyond free publicity, it remains to be seen whether Sony and Microsoft learned their lessons last year or if gift-getting gamers will be left out in the cold — again.

Tweet and Sour

As noted by Game Zone, Phantom Squad announced their intentions via tweet with the hashtag #DramaAlert on Dec. 8. The group has been active on Twitter lately, claiming responsibility for attacks on Grand Theft Auto Online in addition to the PSN and Xbox Live Gaming networks. It also took credit for a recent Reddit outage; the site was down for a period on Dec. 15 due to “extreme load,” which could have been the result of a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack.

A later tweet by Phantom Squad shed some light on the need to pull down public services: It claims it’s because “cybersecurity does not exist.” Why that demands this kind of visceral, rage-inducing demonstration, however, is left to the imagination.

It’s worth noting that as last year’s attacks dragged into their third full day, Internet entrepreneur and well-known gamer Kim Dotcom offered Lizard Squad attackers free premium accounts on his upload service. This year, however, he’s made it clear that Microsoft and Sony are on their own.

Games Anonymous Hackers Play

The rash of gaming attacks shouldn’t come as a surprise. Anonymous hackers recognize the massive cultural impact of games, especially those played online with friends. Gamers now come from all walks of life, are all ages and genders, and many are willing to spend real money online, making forced downtime the perfect catalyst for unbridled consumer rage.

Following the trend, gaming malware is also on th rise. As noted by Motherboard, popular online gaming platform Steam is enduring a rash of malware designed to mimic its secure item-trading system. Since users are able to trade virtual items for real-world cash from other players, Steam owners Valve decided it was time for a safety measure: Any valuable items traded face a hold period to ensure no fraud is taking place.

Users are understandably frustrated with the wait, and malware-makers have seized the opportunity, with an illegitimate website spoofing Steam’s escrow trading quickly popping up. Victims were prompted to download an escrow.exe file that actually contained backdoor malware. PC World, meanwhile, pointed out that GPU-based malware is becoming more common as attackers find ways to leverage graphics processor resources to snoop on a host computer’s memory — a task made easier since most GPUs are completely unencrypted.

Bottom line? Games are now big business, which makes them high-priority targets for anonymous hackers. With millions of consoles and games wrapped and under Christmas trees, it remains to be seen if Phantom Squad will be naughty this year or if Microsoft and Sony can make sure nice wins the day.

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Douglas Bonderud

Freelance Writer

A freelance writer for three years, Doug Bonderud is a Western Canadian with expertise in the fields of technology and...