Various British media, including the Daily mail, The mirrorand The Telegraph— have alleged that Sony’s PlayStation 4 is being used by ISIS/ISIL/Da’esh to plan its attacks, with The Express even saying that a PS4 was used to plot the recent horrific attacks on Paris.
However, as discovered by Eurogamer, the provenance and reporting for these stories is extremely suspicious. Most are based on comments made by the Deputy Prime Minister of Belgium, Jan Jambon, which emerged from a debate about ISIS’ use of online recruitment. The debate took place three days before Friday’s terrorist attacks in Paris.
“PlayStation 4 is even harder to keep up with than WhatsApp,” he said. “It is very, very difficult for our services – not only Belgian services but also international services – to decrypt the communication that goes through PlayStation 4.”
Jambon most likely refers to the PS4’s Party Chat feature, which allows players to exchange voice and text messages one-on-one or in a group, and is indeed encrypted. However, there is no evidence that the feature is actually used by terrorists, let alone played an integral role in the Paris attacks.
The mainstream UK media has linked Jambon’s comments to the Paris attacks through an article in the International Business Times, which claimed that a PS4 had been discovered in raids in Belgium after the attacks. However, this remains unconfirmed by the authorities. In particular, a quick read of the IBT article – which includes the line “ISIL could transfer a plan of attack into Super Mario Maker’s coins and share it privately with another PS4 user” – would raise suspicions about the validity of the report.
The IBT article itself was based on another article on Forbes, which now contains a major correction at the top: “It has not been confirmed, as originally written, that a console has been found as a result of specific Belgian terror attacks. Minister Jambon spoke about tactics which he knows ISIS uses in general.”
That these two reports led to the publication of headlines such as “ISIS Terrorists Used Sony PlayStation 4 to Plot Massacre in Paris” (The Express) is misinformed at best, deliberately sensationalist at worst. That headline has since changed to “Did ISIS Terrorists Use a PlayStation 4 to Plot the Paris Street Massacre?”
As Eurogamer helpfully pointed out: “[none of the stories] pointed out the likelihood that a PS4, a console that has sold only 30 million units, would be found in a house in Belgium inhabited by a man in his twenties.”
Sony has since issued a statement saying:
“PlayStation 4 enables communication between friends and fellow gamers and, as with all modern connected devices, has the potential to be abused. However, we take our responsibility to protect our users very seriously and we urge our users and partners to report any activity that may be offensive, suspicious or illegal.When we observe or become aware of such conduct, we are committed to and will continue to take appropriate action in cooperation with the appropriate authorities doing.”
As the world tries to come to grips with the atrocities that took place in Paris over the weekend, questions are being asked about how such attacks could ever have happened. It emerged yesterday that several former intelligence officials and media analysts blamed NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden for revealing intelligence agencies’ surveillance capabilities. The comments came in response to evidence that the attackers from Syria used encrypted communications.
As we noted in the report, terrorist organizations have been using various types of encryption for more than 15 years — long before Snowden whistleblowered. In the UK, the attacks have sparked further debate over the controversial “Snooper’s Charter”, which would give the UK government the power to demand backdoor access to software and equipment, and make it a crime to expose the existence of hacking by the government disclosure.