By Clark Boyd
It's rare for one news story to directly impact 77 million people around the globe. But that's the case with the security breach that's forced Sony to shut down its PlayStation Network.
The Japanese company is warning the network's 77 million users that a hacker may have stolen their personal information. It happened sometime last week. And it could be the biggest data breach ever.
The Sony PlayStation is, at heart, a gaming console. But this is not your father's stand-alone piece of gaming gear. The PlayStation is also a gateway to an Internet connected network that lets users buy all kinds of things.
Sony likes to brag about the possibilities in its commercials for freakish happiness. This is, of course, as long as you hand over the credit card details.
The network's 77 million users did – along with email addresses and birthdates. They've created passwords and security questions.
When the network went down last week – and stayed down – users were understandably miffed. But when Sony released this statement Tuesday the news got much worse.
"We believe that an unauthorized person has obtained the following information that you provided:" the statement said. "Your name, address, country, email address, birth date, PS network, login and handle, and PlayStation ID. It's also possible your profile data, including purchase history and billing address, your PlayStation network password security answers, may also have been obtained. While there is no evidence that credit card data was taken at this time, we cannot rule out the possibility.
Perry Davis, from Buffalo, NY, was not happy.
"I'm 31 years old, and I've been dealing with Playstation since I was a kid. So, I really felt safe doing business with them," Davis said. "I believe some of the trust has been lost. It's going to be hard for me to give them my information knowing this could happen again."
Other PlayStation users, like Matthew Austin in Britain, wonder why Sony didn't tell fans sooner.
"You shouldn't find out that your bank details might have compromised by people on Twitter," Austin said. "They've obviously had a massive loss of data, and I'm having to find out through fellow customers. That really does not seem like professional practice for a company like Sony."
And while many Sony PlayStation network customers focus on the potential breach of credit card info, some say it's the compromised passwords that might prove to be the real issue.
Tom Standage, a technology editor for The Economist, said that many people use the same password for different online systems.
"So the danger is that if your passwords and personal questions – your mother's maiden name – so forth, the answers to those questions have been made available, fallen into the hands of hackers, then they could potentially use that for identity theft, to get into things like your bank account, and other online systems where you might have provided your credit card details."
Sony has given no details on who got in, or how. It has promised that it will rebuild the network to make it more secure.
The company said some services may be restored within a week.