How A Hacker Gang Saved Christmas For Video Game Players Everywhere
Universal PicturesAt the start of December, a notorious hacker gang named "Lizard Squad" issued a threat: it would take down over Christmas the PlayStation and Xbox Live networks, the online services that some video games need in order run from a home console.
Despite most hackers being "in it for the lulz" - a hacker term meaning "doing it for fun" - some did not take kindly to threats of disruption to their favourite video game services.
In the weeks following Lizard Squad's threat, another gang of hackers formed. It had two aims: 1. Keep the video game services running. 2. Take down Lizard Squad.
Lizard Squad Strikes
Lizard Squad is one of the most well-known online hacker groups and has a history of attacking popular video game services. In August, Lizard Squad claimed to have caused disruption to the PlayStation Network , as well as servers run by Blizzard, the company behind World of Warcraft.
In the same month, the group took their campaign one step further by tweeting a bomb threat against Sony executive John Smedley, which forced his flight to be diverted. As Smedley's flight was grounded, the group shared messages discussing 9/11, comparing themselves to ISIS.
After that series of hacks, Lizard Squad declared their campaign of disruption to be over, publishing this statement:
We set out on our journey 2 weeks ago with the plan to cause havoc within the gaming community Our motives varied throughout this adventure. Originally it was to see if we could evade being caught and to experience the raw thrill of anarchy, not being bound to phony laws. We've been called everything from an organised criminal 'gang' to complete a**holes, really we are just a bunch of guys with too much free time.
But Lizard Squad's hacking campaign against video games didn't end there. They returned in September to wreak havoc against popular games such as Call of Duty, FIFA, Destiny, Madden, and The Sims 4. Yet again, the group (which has claimed to have a handful of members) had proven that they could successfully shut down the online services that video game fans rely on to play their favourite titles.
Lizard Squad went quiet over October and November, perhaps readying themselves for their largest attack yet. The hackers resurfaced, taking the PlayStation and Xbox networks offline at the start of December. This time, though, they announced that they intended to keep the networks down for the Christmas season, describing themselves as the "Next generation Grinch."
A New "Squad" Emerges
The threat to ruin Christmas for video game fans was heard by another gang of hackers. Instead of joining forces to revel in the disruption, this group had more noble intentions.
A group known as "The Finest Squad" emerged in December with the intention of bringing "cyber-criminals to justice."
Sure enough, Finest Squad managed to break into the public Twitter accounts and websites of Lizard Squad's members, releasing their names and photographs of them online. For any hacker, that's a nightmare scenario. Being doxxed (having your private information posted online) will generally either lead to an arrest or to sustained harassment from people you have wronged.
One by one, the members of Lizard Squad went silent. It's not clear exactly how Finest Squad managed to uncover their personal information, but it was likely through checking for weak spots in their email, Skype, Twitter, and web hosting accounts.
Some alleged members of Lizard Squad, sensing that their time was up, decided to quit:
Others live tweeted their arrest:
Here's an image that Finest Squad shared to celebrate the take down of Lizard Squad:
Despite their confidence, it seems that Lizard Squad's online security was poor. Finest Squad proudly showcased their information online on a specially created website.
Weirdly, Finest Squad announced the defeat of Lizard Squad using an obscure nerdcore hip-hop track by YTCracker, a former hacker who now performs rap songs featuring remixes of classic video game soundtracks.
Finest Squad pointed to a news release by the Polk County Sheriff's Office that announced the arrest of a 17-year-old Canadian over allegations that he had "Swatted" local schools. Swatting is when an internet prankster calls the police and claims that an armed shooter is in a school or apartment. It's named "Swatting" because the police response is usually to send a SWAT team to the location, terrifying the unknowing occupants.
Finest Squad also revealed how Lizard managed to take the video game networks down. In short, the group used a tactic that sends a flood of web traffic to a single network. The onslaught of traffic takes the web server down. It's estimated that the hacking services used to issue what's known as a distributed denial of service attack would have cost as little as $300.
To make sure that no gang of mischievous teenagers would be able to do the same as Lizard Squad, Finest Squad even submitted information about the vulnerabilities discovered to the video game networks that were under attack.