The hacker war that may decide whether console gamers can play online Christmas Day (update)

Two groups of self-described hackers have been fighting for nearly a month over a threat to take down the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live on Christmas Day.

Lizard Squad (this new Twitter account was suspended as I wrote this story) announced in early December its plans to take down both online gaming networks for Christmas, describing itself as the “next generation Grinch.” But then another hacker group,The Finest Squad, emerged, saying that it would stop the group and bring its members to justice.

The back and forth between the two has resulted in both groups claiming victories through doxxing, hacked Twitter accounts and websites and even an arrest.

The turmoil started in August when Lizard Squad made a bit of a name for itself by claiming responsibility for Blizzard and PlayStation Network outages and a tweeted bomb threat which diverted the flight of Sony Online Entertainment head John Smedley.

The group returned in September, claiming responsibility for attacks on the servers for a slew of games including Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, Destiny and Grand Theft Auto Online. Then on Dec. 1, the group said it once more took the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live offline.

The group tweeted that it was preparing for a larger attack at Christmas and that the Dec. 1 attack was just a “small dose of what’s to come.”

We have successfully removed LizardSquad from Twitter. Your Welcome fellow gamers. We will make sure their IRC stays offline. #FinestSquad

— The Finest (@FinestSquad) December 12, 2014

No one has verified exactly who is responsible for what in these outages.

On Dec. 2, a new hacker group surfaced. The Finest Squad said it would prevent the promised attack by Lizard Squad and dismantle the group by outing its members and turning them in to police.

On Dec. 7, The Finest Squad provided a link to a press release from the Polk County Sheriff’s Office in Florida about the arrest of a 17-year-old in Canada in connection with a school swatting call in September. The Finest Squad said the arrested teen was a member of Lizard Squad.

On Sunday, December 7, 2014, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, or “Mounties,” arrested a 17-year-old male suspect in Coquitlam, British Columbia, Canada, after a PCSO investigation into three incidents of “Swatting” that occurred in Polk County positively identified the young man. Due to Canadian privacy laws, the suspect’s identity is protected.

The group began releasing names and photographs of people it said were the members of Lizard Squad. But Lizard Squad fought back, claiming to dox the members of The Finest Squad.

On Dec. 11, The Finest Squad tweeted it had removed the group from Twitter:

This back and forth continued until this week, when the two groups agreed to an online interview on YouTube channel DramaAlert. The 15-minute interview quickly devolved into name calling.

The chief question, what will happen on Christmas Day, was never answered.

Last night, The Finest Squad put up a Youtube video to answer that question:

“The answer is: no events,” the group said through a member. “[Lizard Squad is] not going to do anything. They can’t do anything. They don’t have anyone funding them anymore. The main members of Lizard Squad are gone. They made a new Twitter account for shits and giggles.”

The group said it plans to actively defend both gaming networks starting Christmas Eve.

“[The attacks on] Christmas ain’t going to happen, nothing is going to happen,” according to the video. “We’re doing this because we are gamers ourselves and we feel it is a pretty simple procedure to take out a group of little kids who don’t know what they’re doing, who still need a little learning.”

The Finest Squad didn’t respond to requests for comment, but a member of Lizard Squad did, succinctly.

The group said it attacked the various gaming networks and called in the bomb threat because “chaos is entertainment.” They also denied that The Finest Squad’s work had sent any of their members to jail.

Even without the threat of a denial of service attack lead by a hacker group, both gaming networks often struggle during the holidays as new owners flood the services Christmas Day through New Year’s.

We’ve reached out to both Sony and Microsoft about the stability of their networks and what they are doing to protect against any attacks over the holiday. We’ll update this story when Sony responds.

While Microsoft declined to address these particular threats, a company spokesperson did explain what the company is doing to prepare for the holidays.

“Our Xbox Live operations team works through the holidays to help keep our games, platform and services functioning as millions of gamers turn on their new Xbox for the first time, connect to Xbox Live and start playing their first games,” said Dave McCarthy, general manager of Xbox product services. “Running a great service is a 24/7 job backed by dedicated members of Team Xbox.”

A company spokesperson added:

“Microsoft takes the security of our customers’ data very seriously and employs a team of professionals to monitor and manage the security of our services. We recommend our members visit our dedicated Xbox Live Security page at http://xbox.com/security to learn how to help protect their account.”

Update: We’ve added a comment from Microsoft.

Watch cyber warfare in real time with this fascinating map