Sony's PlayStation Network, Qriocity close to returning

CEO Howard Stringer apologizes and launched an ID theft protection scheme for US users

Sony appears to be close to ending a two-week long outage of its PlayStation Network. The company said late Thursday that it is in the final stages of internal testing of the new system, but it stopped short of saying when the popular online gaming service would resume operations.

Sony has been forced to build a new system after a large and embarrassing security breach forced it to take the PlayStation Network and Qriocity services offline on April 20. The full extent of the damage done in the attack is still being investigated, but Sony has confirmed that personal information from 77 million accounts was obtained in the attack.

"We’ve been working around the clock to rebuild the network and enhance protections of your personal data," the company said in a blog posting. "It’s our top priority to ensure your data is safe when you begin using the services again."

The new system includes more firewalls and additional software that should alert system administrators about suspicious activity.

On Sunday, the company said it was planning to bring the PlayStation Network and Qriocity back online in stages. Online gaming and access to unexpired movie rentals will be the first services to return on the PlayStation Network, while Qriocity users will be able to use the Music on Demand service, the company said. Other functions, including the PlayStation Store, will be available by mid-May.

Also on Thursday, Sony began offering U.S. users a year-long subscription to an identity theft protection program. The service includes monitoring the Internet for exposure of users’ personal information, and a US$1 million insurance against losses arising from identity theft. Services for users in other regions are due to be announced soon.

Sony CEO Howard Stringer also chose Thursday to make his first comments on the attack.

“As a company we -- and I -- apologize for the inconvenience and concern caused by this attack,” Stringer said in [< href=http://blog.us.playstation.com/2011/05/05/a-letter-from-howard-stringer/>a letter posted</a] on the PlayStation blog. "Our investigation is ongoing, and we are upgrading our security so that if attacks like this happen again, our defenses will be even stronger."

Stringer's letter repeated that the company has found no evidence to date of the loss of credit card information or the fraudulent use of cards stemming from the recent attack.

Martyn Williams covers Japan and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Martyn on Twitter at @martyn_williams. Martyn's e-mail address is martyn_williams@idg.com

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