(photo credit: REUTERS)
TOKYO/NEW YORK - Sony Corp warned that hackers had stolen names, addresses and possibly credit card details from the 77 million user accounts of its video game online network, in one of the largest Internet security break-ins ever.
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The Japanese electronic giant pulled the plug on the network on April 19 after finding out about the breach in its popular PlayStation Network, a service that produces an estimated $500 million in annual revenues.
Sony did not tell the public about the stolen data until Tuesday, hours after it had unveiled in Japan its first tablet computers.
Sony's delay in announcing the theft sparked an online furor from users, almost 90 percent of whom are based in Europe or the United States, and could push some users to rival Nintendo's Wii and Microsoft's XBox gaming devices.
"If you have compromised my credit information, you will never receive it again," read one message on the PlayStation Network blog from a user under the name Korbei83.
"The fact that you've waited this long to divulge this information to your customers is deplorable. Shame on you."
In a message posted on its US PlayStation blog, Sony said an "illegal and unauthorized person" obtained names, addresses, email addresses, birth dates, user names, passwords, logins, security questions and more.
A Sony spokesman said that after learning of the breach it took "several days of forensic investigation" before the company knew consumers' data had been compromised.
Sony's executives made no mention of the network crisis at the tablet launch in Tokyo, when the glossy devices were unveiled, nor at a later briefing with journalists.
The tablets, which come in two sizes, will be the first to enable the use of PlayStation games and mark Sony's ambitious drive to compete with Apple's year-old iPad.
Sony is the latest Japanese company to come under fire for not disclosing bad news quickly.
Tokyo Electric Power Co was criticized for how it handled the nuclear
crisis after the March 11 earthquake. Last year, Toyota Motor Corp was
slammed for being less than forthright about problems over a massive
US Democratic senator Richard Blumenthal sent a letter to Sony asking it
to explain why it didn't notify PlayStation owners sooner. Sony has
also reported the breach to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the New
York Times reported.
The shutdown of the PlayStation Network prevented owners of Sony's video
game console from buying and downloading games, as well as playing with
rivals over the Internet.
Sony said it could restore some of the network's services within a week
and issued a set of Frequently Asked Questions on its website to deal
with queries about the network.
Alan Paller, research director of the SANS Institute, said the breach
may be the largest theft of identity data information on record.
The online network was launched in the autumn of 2006 and offers games,
music and movies to people with PlayStation consoles. It had 77 million
registered users as of March 20, a Sony spokesman said.
Sony shares fell 2.0 percent in Tokyo in a broader market up 1.4 percent.