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Delay announcing Sony PlayStation Network breach may be linked to criminal investigation

'Network was designed with performance concepts in mind and not security concepts,' one expert suggests

By , Network World
April 28, 2011 09:53 AM ET

Network World - It's still unclear why it took Sony so long to admit it lost customers' personally identifiable information in the wake of the PlayStation Network attack, but the real reason may have more to do with legal considerations than how long it took the company to discover the losses, experts say.

The official line from Sony's daily blog updates about the attack that has knocked out its PS3 gaming site for a week now is that it took days to perform the forensic investigation that revealed the scope of the breach.

But part of that investigation may have been criminal as opposed to technical, says John Pironti, president of IP Architects, a security consulting firm. "You can delay disclosure if you're in the midst of criminal investigations and doing forensics," he says.

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A company can also delay disclosure if it is notifying organizations that can mitigate the effects of the breach, such as credit card companies. "First you get to all the people who can stop the badness before you disclose to the public," Pironti says. So while Sony may have known what was taken earlier, it might have spent some time trying to offset damage to customers.

The attacker -- and Sony's blog speaks of "an unauthorized person" -- apparently found a way to gain access to the network and then discovered an exposed system to exploit, Pironti say.

Sony is saying that credit card numbers may have been compromised, but it's not certain. It's not necessary for companies to store credit card data; it's just a convenience so customers don't have to re-enter their numbers each time they make a purchase, says Derek Manky, a threat researcher for Fortinet, speaking in a Network World podcast. "Should they be storing information like this?" he says. "It's a convenience factor."

The damage to the network must be devastating, Pironti says, for the company to announce that it is rebuilding the network and indicating its gaming site still won't be up and running fully for another week. "We have a clear path to have PlayStation Network and Qriocity systems back online, and expect to restore some services within a week," the PlayStation blog said April 26.

"Our efforts to resolve this matter involve re-building our system to further strengthen our network infrastructure," the blog said three days earlier. "Though this task is time-consuming, we decided it was worth the time necessary to provide the system with additional security."

That is a strong indication of fundamental problems with the network, not just cleaning up after a breach, Pironti says. "I wouldn't tell my clients to say that even if it's what they're going to do," Pironti says.

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When the site does come back up, it will likely be a Band-Aided version of its old network to keep players gaming until it can complete its rebuild. "To me that means there's a flagrant design flaw in what they had," he says. "This means the network was designed with performance concepts in mind and not security concepts."

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