Like a mythical creature coming back to life, Sony's PlayStation Network is slowly coming back online. The company announced Saturday that it has begun a "phased restoration."
In a video posted on the PlayStation Blog, Sony executive Kazuo Hirai said the first phase "has been launched in most regions of the world." He said this includes PSN, the Qriocity music service, online game play, and access to third-party services such as Netflix, Hulu, VUDU and Major League Baseball.
Hirai added that friends lists, chat functionality, and PlayStation Home are also part of the first phase. All services are expected to be restored by the end of this month.
As a new security feature, all customers are required to change their passwords. A new password can only be changed on the same PS3 that was used for the initial activation, or by e-mail validation.
Hirai said "aggressive actions" are being taken to address the vulnerabilities that led to the unprecedented outage, in which as many as 100 million users may have had their personal information stolen.
The actions, he said, include advanced security technology, increased levels of encryption, additional firewalls, and early warning systems. Hirai also noted Sony's offer to provide free identity-theft insurance programs, and said protection of consumer data is a "full-time company commitment."
Customers are also being offered a Welcome Back package of content and services, with details to be announced for specific markets. As the rollout proceeds in phases, Sony is recommending that customers update their firmware, which is required to get online.
'Loyal To the Games'
According to news reports, Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud, or EC2, was used by at least one of the hackers who attacked Sony. The staging was conducted through an account set up in a fictitious name.
But while the phased restoration proceeds, one country is on hold: Sony's home country of Japan. Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry official Kazushige Nobutani said Sony has not yet answered two of the government's key questions. One involves details about preventative measures, and the other is for more information about the steps being taken to restore consumer confidence.
Brad Shimmin, an analyst with industry research firm Current Analysis, noted that the brand loyalty of PSN gamers apparently is still strong. He pointed out that the PSN network slowed when users started coming back, because of the "onslaught of users who wanted to reset their passwords."
Shimmin said that, unlike other kinds of social networks, a gaming network such as PSN appears to be able to maintain the loyalty of many of its users "because people are loyal to the games themselves." He said other kinds of social networks, by contrast, are more fragile because users can transport their social identity elsewhere.
He also noted that several items on the list of steps that Sony says it is taking, such as a wider use of encryption and proactive monitoring for patterns of malicious attacks, are things that one would have expected the company to have been doing before. "It appears," Shimmin said, "that Sony did not, at the onset, have the expertise to do this properly."