Gaming platform Steam confirms it was attacked by hackers on Christmas

Online gaming platform Steam had a big Christmas Day meltdown. 

On Wednesday the company confirmed that the outage was initially caused by hackers, but its other security problems were caused by its attempts to thwart the hackers.

It was offline for hours on Christmas day, just as people were unwrapping their new gadgets and wanting to play games, people noticed.

And then, it came back up, but was then found to allow some users access to other users’ accounts, including showing the purchasing history of those other accounts along with partial credit card information and other sensitive data.

On Wednesday, the company explained that it suffered two waves of what’s known as a “denial of service attack.” That’s when hackers send a website so much traffic it can’t cope and is knocked offline.

There were apparently threats made by a hacking collective known as ‘SkidNP’ saying they planned to take down Steam and “Minecraft” servers over Christmas. (“Minecraft” wasn’t affected.)

In a blog posted on Wednesday, Steam explained:

“Early Christmas morning (Pacific Standard Time), the Steam Store was the target of a DoS attack which prevented the serving of store pages to users. Attacks against the Steam Store, and Steam in general, are a regular occurrence that Valve handles both directly and with the help of partner companies, and typically do not impact Steam users. During the Christmas attack, traffic to the Steam store increased 2000% over the average traffic during the Steam Sale.

In response to this specific attack, caching rules managed by a Steam web caching partner were deployed in order to both minimise the impact on Steam Store servers and continue to route legitimate user traffic. During the second wave of this attack, a second caching configuration was deployed that incorrectly cached web traffic for authenticated users. This configuration error resulted in some users seeing Steam Store responses which were generated for other users. Incorrect Store responses varied from users seeing the front page of the Store displayed in the wrong language, to seeing the account page of another user.”

To decode that a little, Steam is saying that the hack attack tried to knock its service offline and succeeded for a while. But logging people into others’ accounts wasn’t the hackers’ doing. It was an error made from the efforts Steam used to counter the DoS attack. Steam was saving (i.e. caching) user data then showing that data to the wrong people.

Steam says that it was sharing sensitive data on about 34,000 of its users.

The info it shared on users included “billing address, the last four digits of their Steam Guard phone number, their purchase history, the last two digits of their credit card number, and/or their email address.”

People were tweeting and posting on forums on Christmas saying that Steam was having security issues and giving them access to other people’s accounts, complete with access to that person’s credit card.

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