As many of us get excited to find brand new games under our trees this Christmas, it's worth looking back at what happened last year, when some jerks tried to ruin Christmas for everyone. Many of you might recall the mess that transpired around Christmas 2014, when online services hosting Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network suddenly stopped working for gamers around the world. Xbox Live went down for a full 24 hours, whereas PSN was dead for a whopping two days. The reason? These online networks were being hammered by "distributed denial of service", which are attacks designed to overload servers with tons of traffic. (Frustratingly, there is no easy way to stop DDoS attacks from happening.)
In other words, the outage of online games during Christmas 2014 was not happenstance. An alleged hacking group known as "Lizard Squad" took responsibility for the attacks, claiming that they took down the services to highlight "incompetence" at Microsoft and Sony. Really, Lizard Squad were big jerks about the whole thing, judging from the interviews members gave the press in the days following the outages.
A few weeks later, some alleged members of Lizard Squad were actually arrested by the authorities, with at least one member found guilty of thousands of charges related to "computer crimes". One man in particular wasn't sentenced to go to prison — instead, he was tasked with the responsibility of helping fight against cybercrime, funnily enough.
A year later, there is a possibility that we may see something similar go down in a couple of days. Reports around the web allege that a couple of new so-called hacker groups are threatening Xbox Live and PSN once again, though it's hard to suss out just how credible these claims are when the only evidence anyone can point to is a string of unverifiable Tweets. Judging from the circus spinning around the potential outage of Xbox Live and PSN this year, it's entirely possible that the threats are just a bad call for attention. It's working, too: the threats toward Xbox Live and PSN were trending on Facebook in the US just yesterday.
Meanwhile, people claiming to be a part of the new hacker groups are petitioning for more retweets on Twitter, which doesn't inspire confidence about veracity. Then again, it's worth noting that there was an outage to Xbox Live earlier this week, which new hacker groups have claimed responsibility for as well. And last year, before the infamous Lizard Squad attacks went down, the group did broadcast threats beforehand on Twitter too. In short, it's hard to concretely say if anything will go down this year too.
We contacted both Microsoft and Sony for comment on the situation, but did not hear back in time for publication. It's unclear whether or not either company expects new attacks during the holidays, or if they are doing anything to prepare for the possibility, either. That said, it's pretty difficult to stop DDoS attacks from happening, period — this is why they have become so common over the last couple of years. It is not entirely out of the question that we may have to prepare for the possibility of not playing our favourite games online later this week. It wouldn't be the biggest deal, of course. But the fact this is a concern at all is kind of annoying, considering people spend money for the privilege of playing games online, and it's also not unreasonable to expect being able to play your favourite games on a holiday.
And hey, there's always the chance online gaming servers will get overloaded not by hacker arseholes, but by precious "Christmas noobs" who don't know the difference between a frag and a teabag. Or maybe no services will go down at all! Let's hope for the best.