The media link the PlayStation 4 to terrorist attacks in Paris

Graham Cluley
Graham Cluley
@[email protected]

ParisI’ve been reading stories all day that suggest that the terrorists who killed over 120 people in Paris and left hundreds injured might have used a PlayStation 4 gaming console to plot and plan their crime.

The basis of these media stories appears to be that, firstly, a PlayStation 4 was reportedly seized from an address in Brussels raided by the authorities in the wake of the killings.

To which my immediate response was “big deal”. The PlayStation 4 is the best-selling video game console in the world. If you’re raiding the homes of young men in their twenties, don’t be surprised if they have a Sony PS4 stashed beneath their TV, as sold openly on the high street.

But that, of course, hasn’t stopped the inevitable hyperbolic headlines.

Sign up to our free newsletter.
Security news, advice, and tips.

Daily mail report

Yes, I suppose the terrorists might have used a PS4. After all, the system comes with Skype-like voice chatting, as well as a means to send messages to other members of the PlayStation Network or for communicating directly from within a myriad of games.

But similarly they might have used OTR (off-the-record) instant messaging on their PC, smartphone apps for secure encrypted phone calls, good old GPG-encrypted emails, or any manner of other ways to communicate without fear that law enforcement would be able to easily snoop on their plans.

The second reason that the media is breathlessly writing about the dangers introduced by the PlayStation 4 is that, just three days before the attacks, Jan Jambon, Belgium’s deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister, spoke about the platform.

Jambon told Politico that international law enforcement found it difficult to snoop upon messages sent between PlayStation owners, and that it was “the most difficult communication between these terrorists”.

Some reports went on to quote Jambon as saying, “PlayStation 4 is even more difficult to keep track of than WhatsApp.”

The fact is that many devices can be used to communicate securely, with little or no fear of surveillance. There is always some way of communicating securely if you really want to – which underlines the daftness of governments who would seek to unravel privacy for all of us in the name of fighting terror wrought by a few.

Don’t believe me?

Anything which allows two people to exchange messages (whether it be by talking, typing, or waving semaphore flags at each other in a 3D virtual environment) could potentially be used by terrorists to communicate.

Two years ago, documents leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden showed that intelligence agencies in the United States and UK were sneaking onto “World of Warcraft” to snoop around on “persons of interest”.

I have umpteen chess apps on my phone which allow me to play folks online. Even if many of them didn’t come with their own instant-messaging facility, I could communicate with my fellow extremists by playing a pre-agreed opening, that they knew how to interpret.

Draw somethingDon’t love chess? Not a problem. Launch an online game like “Draw Something” and you’ll soon be doodling your orders for a terrorist attack to your partner in crime.

In summary, saying that a Sony PlayStation 4 was recovered from an address raided by police investigating the horrific events in Paris doesn’t really tell us anything in itself.

In fact, I feel it’s just as hard to read meaning into the statement as if we were to hear that smartphones or laptops were recovered. Any of these devices could have been used for secure communications, and – if so – those secure communications might have been related to planning a terrorist strike.

But it seems far too early to jump to any conclusions. The investigation should be allowed to continue properly, without the media attempting to second guess what might have happened, or politicians attempting to use the ghastly events as a pawn to promote their own anti-privacy agenda.

Relax gaming addicts – ownership of a PS4 is not, and never will be, a good indication that you are involved in terrorism.

Graham Cluley is an award-winning keynote speaker who has given presentations around the world about cybersecurity, hackers, and online privacy. A veteran of the computer security industry since the early 1990s, he wrote the first ever version of Dr Solomon's Anti-Virus Toolkit for Windows, makes regular media appearances, and is the co-host of the popular "Smashing Security" podcast. Follow him on Twitter, Mastodon, Threads, Bluesky, or drop him an email.

9 comments on “The media link the PlayStation 4 to terrorist attacks in Paris”

  1. coyote

    Guilt by association fallacy, more or less. So they found a PS4 at the premise. And I'm sure they also found many other things. Funnily enough most buildings have things in it and many of those buildings might be used for organised crime – or not. They probably have plumbing too, or at least a septic tank. They might even be hiding secrets deep down in those pipes (or the hole in the ground)! Then again, they might not. The two do not relate to each other one way or another and any statement to the contrary is more harmful than anything else – and stupid.

  2. dutchboy

    I thought it was obvious… I mean, the ones at the stadium had clearly been playing FIFA, the ones at the concert had been playing music games, etc. Sorry, nasty itch in my throat there.

    1. coyote · in reply to dutchboy

      I realise the latter part might be deliberately drawing attention to any subtleties of your message (I hope that's the case!) but even if that is exactly it, I'll just point out that there is nothing to apologise about here. Having a dark, morbid and twisted sense of humour is perfectly acceptable. The fact I have a dark, morbid, twisted sense of humour isn't any more relevant than the fact one of these men (as cited in the article) has (or is that HAD ?) a PS4. Well, perhaps it is slightly relevant but so minor that it might as well be immaterial (figuratively and in the case of the PS4 literally – at least when deliberately modifying/adding a meaning to the word immaterial for the pun which coincidentally I just did).

  3. Techno

    Indeed, terrorists only have to exchange a one time pad, by meeting in person or sending it at an early stage before they are under surveillance, and their communications would be unbreakable.

    1. coyote · in reply to Techno

      I'd like to offer a correction to your response. Whilst it is accurate I think it could be improved. Hopefully you agree but I'm definitely not sorry for offering what is more accurate.

      Replace 'terrorist' with 'politician'. Following that, note the ironies of it (yes I'm suggesting more than one thing).

      Although… In retrospect there is one difference, perhaps: politicians are so reckless and so incredibly stupid that they usually mess up and then their corruption is revealed (whether they successfully cover it up or not is dependent on the circumstances – and the gullibility and/or stupidity of those they are concealing [whatever] from).

  4. J Lee

    Another award winning article from the Daily Mail.

    Well, at least it wasn't the usual line that violent video games make violent people. I'm really tired of that rhetoric.

    1. David L · in reply to J Lee

      Damn,you beat me to it ! But next thing is,the government will demand back doors be installed in the boxes.

  5. Simon

    Minor point but shouldn't "good old GPG-encrypted emails" be PGP ..

    1. Different Simon · in reply to Simon

      Not if they are using GPG (GNU Privacy Guard, an alternative to PGP) to encrypt their mails, no.

What do you think? Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.