Sony has been fined a record £250,000 (approx Rs 2.1 crores) by the Information Commissioner’s Office, a UK data protection watchdog, after personal details including credit card numbers and passwords of millions of gamers were leaked online.
The incident occurred in April 2011 and it is estimated that as many as 100 million users were affected by the hack. It is not yet known who is responsible for the hack that affected PlayStation users. The ICO said that the security breach was one of the most serious incidents it has handled under the Data Protection Act and the fine is the maximum awarded by the office against a private company.
The PlayStation ID hack occurred in 2011
The Guardian reported that Sony responded to the fine by saying it strongly disagreed with the ruling and planned to appeal. The company’s statement went on to say, "Criminal attacks on electronic networks are a real and growing aspect of 21st century life and Sony continually works to strengthen our systems, building in multiple layers of defence and working to make our networks safe, secure and resilient. The reliability of our network services and the security of our consumers' information are of the utmost importance to us, and we are appreciative that our network services are used by even more people around the world today than at the time of the criminal attack."
The fine could seem especially harsh because the ICO does not believe that the leaked personal data was used for fraudulent purposes. Moreover, there is no evidence that credit card details were accessed. The ICO’s Deputy Commissioner and Director of Data Protection, David Smith, acknowledged that the fine was substantial but added, "There's no disguising that this is a business that should have known better. It is a company that trades on its technical expertise, and there's no doubt in my mind that they had access to both the technical knowledge and the resources to keep this information safe.”
The security breach was a huge setback for Sony, forcing its then CEO Howard Stringer to issue an apology and causing its share price to tumble. Millions of PlayStation customers had their names, addresses, email addresses, dates of birth and account passwords leaked online, leading to widespread panic over possible identity thefts.
Smith went on to say, "If you are responsible for so many payment card details and log-in details then keeping that personal data secure has to be your priority. In this case that just didn't happen, and when the database was targeted – albeit in a determined criminal attack – the security measures in place were simply not good enough. The case is one of the most serious ever reported to us. It directly affected a huge number of consumers."
In April 2011, hackers exploited a vulnerability in Sony's network following several distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, which overwhelmed Sony's network. The Japanese electronics giant failed to address the vulnerability even after it had spotted the unauthorised access on April 19, 2011, according to the ICO. It said that the Sony network had now been completely rebuilt.