Latest cyber attack on Sony a breach too far for entire cloud industry

3 May 2011

In his look back on the week, editor John Kennedy says the latest security breach to hit Sony – this time affecting 24.6m PC gamers – could be a knife to the heart of the consumer electronics giant’s ambitions to be at the epicentre of the cloud entertainment revolution.

Trust is something that once lost in many cases can never be regained. If it can be regained, it can only be done so after a lot of hard work, determination and sincerity.

In Sony’s case, the latest security breach, which saw hackers gain names, addresses, emails, birth dates, phone numbers and other information conducive to ID theft from Sony’s PC Games Network, couldn’t have come at a more unfortunate time for Sony.

On the face of it, it happened within days of the electronics giant apologising to the first 77m users of the PlayStation and Qriocity networks who were affected by a hack that took place more than a fortnight ago.

Sony gave users a month’s privileged access, as well as loads of downloadable goodies as a mea culpa to its users. The company said that online gameplay for PlayStation 3 and PSP and access to account management features will go live this week.

“This criminal act against our network had a significant impact not only on our consumers, but our entire industry,” said Kazuo Hirai, executive deputy president, Sony Corporation.

He couldn’t be more right. What the attack has done is shake people’s trust in the Holy Grail that all entertainment giants, including Sony, Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and others, are trying to reach – the online cloud space that will contain a users’ music, movies – effectively, their entire digital DNA.

In the enterprise space, one of the key hurdles businesses need to overcome is the trust hurdle surrounding the security of vital data.

Data centres pride themselves on their security measures. However, within two weeks, we’ve seen Amazon’s data centre in the US affected by a routine maintenance job and a small, but no less significant, amount of data lost forever.

For a company the stature of Sony to be affected by an insidious attack that may involve individuals’ credit card information could set the industry back months, if not years, in terms of that fragile thing called trust.

Common goal

Think about it. Apple is striving to build a cloud locker that in some circles is believed to be known as iCloud. Amazon went ahead and built its own cloud locker services for Android users. YouTube has done deals with various Hollywood studios with a view to launching a movie-streaming service possibly this month.

They are all striving for the same thing – to be a secure location where users can access their cherished content wherever and whenever.

Sony had pretty much accomplished this. It was in a good place, with more than 77m console gamers and almost 25m PC gamers ripe to be sold all kinds of other content, too.

I wish Sony the best of luck in trying to resolve this unfortunate mess. But nevertheless it has been a salutary lesson for the industry overall that users’ trust is something you cannot afford to lose.

CEO Howard Stringer and his management team face a mammoth task in restoring that trust and while you would imagine Apple, Microsoft and others would be crowing at the Japanese electronics giants’ predicament, I think not.

This is an unfortunate series of events that sets them all back. It will take determination, hard work and mostly open communication, to restore that trust.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years