Following reports earlier this week of Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) allowing hackers into its iCloud service, Sony Corportation (NYSE: SNE) is facing similar concerns over the security of its data across everything from its mobile-phone business to its new mobile gaming console, the Playstation Vita.
On Thursday, anonymous programmers announced they had discovered an exploit in the Playstation Vita that gave them "application-level" access into the device. According to comments that one of the self-identified hackers known as "Yifanluf" made to CNET, the point of the hack was to reveal weaknesses and potential exploits in the PS Vita, rather than capitalize on them himself.
"As a developer, I am completely against piracy," Yifanlu told CNET. "My tools, when released, cannot be used for that purpose."
Sony spokesmen speaking to Bloomberg, meanwhile, said that approximately 400 user names and addresses of its mobile customers were released online by a hacker group this week as well. No relationship has been established between the two different groups of hackers.
The larger concern in any hacking incidence is the possibilities it poses for anybody hoping to capitalize on potential piracy. As one indie developer put it to Yinfanlu on Twitter, even though his exploit "doesn't it anything," it nevertheless leaves "an open door. Not for you [referring to apparently good-natured or neutral hackers not seeking any personal gain], but for people who want to destroy us."
In a typical hacker style, Yifanlu denied any claim to responsibility for any future piracy, responding that exposing the hack at least made the security weakness visible and gave Sony and developers time to react: "Again, I apologize, but what can I do about what others may possible do in the future? I would be glad to do anything in my power."
For much of its history, Sony had a stellar and somewhat arrogant reputation as making hardware that was impossible to hack. That reputation vanished almost overnight after the company attracted the wrath of the internet flash-mob of hackers known as Anonymous and lost control of its online gaming platform PSN.
But more than a story about online security, the recent PS Vita hack illuminates a larger struggle that has plagued Sony as its current generation of gaming hardware loses an ever-increasing percentage of the "core" gaming market to Microsoft's (Nasdaq: MSFT) Xbox 360. Lacking exclusive rights to many popular gaming franchises that previously defined the Playstation consoles, the PS Vita was launched unspectacularly with a limited line-up of games, the quality of which paled in comparison to the obvious power of the machine itself.
Yinfanlu addressed this problem when explaining the motivations of the hack itself. "I got a Vita on launch date because I believe the system has a big potential, and I still do, but right now, there really isn't that many good new games out," he said. "I thought I could juice some use out of this $300 device if I can run homebrew on it."
Homebrew hacks are a less invasive form of a security breach that allows users to run unauthorized material on a device. For instance, a cluster of websites already exist explaining how to run older and non-Playstation specific games on Sony's previous handheld console, the Playstation Portable (PSP).
But such hacks are usually made to run old or classic games on a new device when a console like the Nintendo 64 (or an old arcade machine, for that matter) isn't really around or in top-shape anymore. The fact that hackers say they are motivated to hack the PS Vita already is a sign of profound consumer disappointment with Sony's current creative intellectual property, to say nothing of the hardware itself.
Sony, for its part, has already owned up to this dilemma, and has promised to introduce higher-quality IP to the handheld beginning next week with the upcoming "Littlebigplanet PS Vita." The company has not yet commented on the PS Vita hack claims.