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New attacks test Sony’s transparent approach to data security

After hackers gained access to the personal information of more than 100 million user accounts last spring, Sony overhauled online security and created a chief information security officer (CISO) position. On Sept. 6, Philip Reitinger joined Sony as its senior vice president and CISO — and he’s already been busy.

In a post to the PlayStation blog last week, Reitinger said Sony detected attempts on Sony Entertainment Network (SEN), PlayStation Network (PSN) and Sony Online Entertainment (SOE) to test “a massive set” of sign-in IDs and passwords against the company’s network database. The attempts appeared to include a large amount of data obtained from one or more compromised lists from other companies, sites or other sources, Reitinger said.

“As a preventative measure, we are requiring secure password resets for those PSN/SEN accounts that had both a sign-in ID and password match through this attempt,” Reitinger wrote in the blog post.

Less than one-tenth of 1% of the PSN, SEN and SOE audiences may have been affected by the data security breach, and Reitinger assured users that credit card numbers were not at risk. This was a relatively low-risk data security breach, but perhaps Sony’s reaction was a case of lessons learned: After the April breach, Sony was criticized for waiting a week to notify customers that their personal information might have been compromised. In addition, it took more than two weeks to fully restore the network. Needless to say, Sony users (and federal regulators) were not impressed by what some viewed as a lackadaisical reaction.

There has been much public outcry over Sony’s data security breach, and those of other companies, in the past year. This likely influenced the SEC last week to mandate the “disclosure of timely, comprehensive and accurate information” surrounding cybersecurity risks.

Did Sony’s online security overhaul help detect this breach before it became another fiasco? Although critics have said Sony simply hired Reitinger as an insurance policy to pacify investors and customers after the April data security breach, he showed his value here. At least now the Sony brass and their customers have someone to go to for information about any further breaches — what happened, how it happened, how they are going to handle it in the future. (Unfortunately for Reitinger, it also gives them someone to blame.)

But if nothing else, the reaction to last week’s data security breach might be indicative of a new trend of taking a proactive approach and letting online customers know what they can do to protect themselves and their information.  Judging by the comments made to Reitinger’s blog post, people are mostly happy with Sony’s reaction to the potential data security breach. Many praised Reitinger and Sony for keeping them informed.

Perhaps Sony and companies like them have learned their lesson about the futility of trying to keep a breach out of the spotlight, and know now that transparency is the best course of action. If the SEC’s recent mandate is any indication, federal regulators and customers are going to be watching companies closely to ensure cybersecurity is kept above board.

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