Video Games

Video games: Hackers expose flaw in modern gaming and beyond

Last weekend, a few lonely kids kept me from working.

I wanted to put a real dent in “The Crew,” an open-world driving game that I reviewed this week. “The Crew” — like so many other games these days — is an online-only affair; players can’t even race alone without a connection to both their consoles’ networks and developer Ubisoft’s host network.

A group called the Lizard Squad made sure gamers couldn’t enjoy their online games by taking down Sony’s PlayStation Network for several hours on Sunday.

The attack was one of many in the past few weeks. Xbox Live has been attacked three times since Dec. 1. PlayStation Network has gone down twice in that time span. Electronic Arts (“Dragon Age,” “FIFA 15”), “Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare” and “Destiny” servers were also attacked. In perhaps the ultimate act of nerd cruelty, hackers took down the “World of Warcraft” servers at the exact moment the much-anticipated “Warlords of Draenor” expansion became playable.

The growing trend stretches beyond gaming. We’ve all read in terror about retailers like Target, Home Depot and Kmart being hacked, exposing thousands to possible identity theft and fraud situations. I read earlier this week that North Korea is rumored to have hacked Sony Pictures’ website because they are releasing the Seth Rogen comedy “The Interview.”

I wrote about groups hacking and using distributed denial-of-service attacks — basically overloading a website or server with traffic until it dies from exhaustion — in a previous column. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but I believe I brushed them off as mischievous kids with too much time on their hands.

Now, I’m sick of it. It’s time for it to stop. You aren’t cool. You aren’t powerful. Nobody likes you. You have skills that could earn a good living somewhere, and you sit in a Starbucks making others miserable. It’s pathetic.

Beyond the inconvenience for fans, these people are messing with the livelihoods of a budding group of young professionals.

My own pain was minor. I only work part-time in gaming journalism, so I can afford a short delay in my freelance pay. But I have bosses and coworkers who review and discuss games full-time. They have families. It’s probably overdramatic to say these attacks caused serious harm to them, but imagine if you couldn’t do your job for three or four days in a two-week span.

It goes beyond journalists. Hundreds of gamers make their living streaming games. If PlayStation Network is down, it’s quite possible that they aren’t getting paid that day. Professional gamers were even more damaged, as they make their entire living off of one game. If that game’s multiplayer servers are dropped, they are toast.

The hacking groups are certainly to blame, but I won’t let these billion-dollar companies off the hook either.

It is absolutely ridiculous that the same companies have been getting attacked by the same people in the same way for over six months. It’s honestly a slap in the face to consumers. With all the money people are pouring into games — over $100 billion a year worldwide — how is security and protection for faithful patrons not a top priority?

I’d like to think the industry will get its act together, but it is only going to get worse.

Every year, more and more single-player games die out. Video games — like the world they inhabit — are moving closer and closer to total reliance on the Internet.

When I lost PlayStation Network, I realized that almost all of the games I play on a weekly basis were crippled. My shooters like “Destiny” and “Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare” were dead. Even “NBA 2K15” — the latest edition in my favorite gaming franchise — requires players to sign into both PlayStation Network and the 2K servers just to play a single-player game.

It made me realize that I need to work on gathering more rainy-day games. For the last decade or so, I’ve referred to games I can play when storms or ineptitude caused my Internet to die as rainy-day games. Single-player computer titles from the “Age of Empires” or “Total War” series make excellent rainy-day games. “Dragon Age: Inquisition” has been a lifesaver during these turbulent weeks.

The loss of online gaming for hours at a time is a pretty minor issue in the grand scheme of the world’s problems, but I worry about the future.

Are these kids going to outgrow their destructive ways, or graduate to cracking into the Pentagon? In 20 or 30 years, I believe all banking, all financial trade, all news consumption, all entertainment, all military systems, all utilities and most communication will rely on Internet servers.

Even the most minor of these consistent security weaknesses had better be fixed by then.