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PSN security chief details strategy to see off hackers

Former Cold War intelligence officer talks up user profiling.

The man entrusted with ensuring the ongoing safety of PlayStation Network following last year's devastating security breach has outlined his basic strategy for keeping the system safe.

Speaking in an interview with SC Magazine, Brett Wahlin - who served as a counter-intelligence officer in the US military during the Cold War, and as chief security officer for McAfee prior to joining Sony last October - explained that user profiling is a key element of his arsenal.

"We are looking to see if there are there key elements within a person's interaction with their environment," he said.

"That could be interaction with badging systems, with telephones - when and who do they call - and with systems like browser habits and applications used. All these things allow us to set up a pattern for users, so when something different happens we can respond.

"If we detect unusual activity, it may be that someone's been owned by a Trojan that we don't know about, and we can stop data flying out the door."

He added that some of the tricks he picked up during the Cold War should come in handy while fighting the new generation of cyber criminals.

"You start to see a lot of similarities to the social engineering tradecraft in the Cold War... they have a discrete set of characteristics and targets and if we can begin to adapt some of the pattern recognition to a digital-based [environment]... we may be able to detect fraud more effectively."

Wahlin explained that the focus of his work has changed in recent years away from state-sponsored threats towards groups such as Anonymous who boast a social agenda rather than a financial or political one.

"The types of attacks we see are by groups with social agendas. The methods they use aren't the same as the state-sponsored guys," he said.

"At Sony, we are modifying our programs to deal less with state-sponsored [attacks] and more with socially-motivated hackers. It will be different."

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Fred Dutton


Fred Dutton was Eurogamer's US news editor, based in Washington DC.

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