All cyber-gangs want for Christmas is to shut down Xbox and PlayStation

More than a war of words
More than a war of words

After claiming responsibility for an attack against the Xbox Live service last week, the Phantom Squad hacking group threatened to shut down the Microsoft gaming service and the PlayStation Network (PSN) on Christmas Day, but whether or not the group has the ability to do so remains to be seen.

The cyber-gang issued the threat last week from its now defunct Twitter account claiming it would shut down both gaming services for up to a week in an attempt to point out what they claim to be Sony's and Microsoft's failure to invest in better security.

“PSN and Xbox Live…Companies that have millions of dollars…and don't bother on working on security,” the gang said in a 16 December tweet, according to Fortune.

Tim Erlin, director of IT security and risk strategy at Tripwire, told SCMagazine.com that it is a possibility the cyber-attack could take place, though he said it's difficult to determine the attacker's methods and resources. Ultimately, the world will have to wait until Christmas to see if anything happens, he said.

“It's always hard to assess the capabilities of groups that are anonymous,” he added.

Even without this specific threat being made, Erlin would expect Microsoft and Sony to have beefed up their cyber defences since the Lizard Squad not only launched attacks against both networks last holiday season, but also began selling its "Lizard Stresser" distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) tool that customers can use to attack any entity they desire.

If something happens, he said, then we need to address how an organisation as well funded as Microsoft or Sony could allow an attack despite forewarning. And if nothing happens, then we should look at what preventative measures were taken by the companies to protect their networks, Erlin said.

The Phantom Squads' attitude and "whimsicalness" leads him to believe that its actions are not just about pointing out cyber-security flaws, but that there could be a financial component. Generally, when someone or a group goes public or directly to the press with these kinds of issues it is because they have become frustrated with their lack of ability to make progress addressing the concerns through typical industry standards, Erlin said.

Tim Matthews, vice president of marketing for the Incapsula product line at Imperva, told SCMagazine.com “people that want to help Microsoft should take part in their bug bounty programme,” adding that Phantom Squad is most likely performing the attacks for the notoriety.

This fame can come about due to the difficulty inherent in launching a successful attack.

In order to bring down the Microsoft or Sony gaming networks, the attackers would need to launch an attack that measured multiple hundreds of gigabytes per second, Matthews said. Even then they don't have to take the site completely offline. If they only managed to slow the sites down it could still make users upset and vent their frustrations on social media.

Phantom Squad has even managed to kick off an internecine conflict among various cyber-gangs. According to Techworm, there has reportedly been bickering on social media between Phantom Squad and a rival cyber-gang known as SkidNP.

On 19 December, SkidNP defaced the Phantom Squad site leaving a taunting message that read, “Hello Phantom Squad. Your website has been taken over by Lizards. You took credit for multiple attacks that you nor any of your members did. We are not so happy about this so we've taken over your site. Here is a suggestion. Quit while you have the chance because if you take credit for the Christmas attacks it will be the last thing you do,” Techworm reported.

The reference to Lizard Squad was reportedly a joke although a member of the Lizard Squad also alluded to taking down the Xbox and PlayStation servers on Christmas in a 18 December tweet.

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