61) for the PlayStation 3 overnight, paving the way for a phased roll-out of the PlayStation Network. At the time of writing, North America is back online, with services set to return in Europe, Australia, New Zealand and the Middle East throughout the day.

The firmware update requires you to change your password before gaining access to the PlayStation Network. Sony explained on the PlayStation Blog:

"If using a PS3, your password can only be changed on your own PS3 (or a PS3 on which your PSN account was activated), as an added layer of security. If you have never downloaded any content using your account on the system, an email will be sent to the registered sign-in ID (email address) associated with your account when you first attempt to sign-in to PSN. This e-mail will contain a link that will enable you to change your password. In this email, click on the link and follow the instructions to change your password. Once you have changed your password you can sign-in to your account using your new password.

"We strongly recommend that all PSN account holders with PS3s update their systems to prepare for when PlayStation Network is back online. The release of this update is a critical step as we work to make PlayStation Network significantly more secure. Thank you for your continued support and patience."

When the PlayStation Network returns, you'll gain access to most (but not all) services that were present before the attack. The biggest omission is the PlayStation Store, which Sony says it will roll out in a future update. Online play, trophy syncing, PlayStation Home, friends lists and access to third-party services such as Netflix, Vidzone, Hulu and Mubi will all return as part of the roll-out today.

Sony has also said that it has made major enhancements to its security practices, including new firewalls, software monitoring, vulnerability testing and increased levels of encryption. Sony said it is working with a number of third-party security specialists to ensure the safety of its network going forward.

“I’d like to send my sincere regret for the inconvenience this incident has caused you, and want to thank you all for the kind patience you’ve shown as we worked through the restoration process,” said Kaz Hirai, Sony’s executive deputy president in a press release.

“I can’t thank you enough for your patience and support during this time. We know even the most loyal customers have been frustrated by this process and are anxious to use their Sony products and services again. We are taking aggressive action at all levels to address the concerns that were raised by this incident, and are making consumer data protection a full time, company-wide commitment.”

Sony has also created a new role within the company for Chief Information Security Officer. The position — which will be temporarily fulfilled by Fumiaki Sakai — will help to reinforce overall information security across the company's network.

“While we understand the importance of getting our services back online, we did not rush to do so at the expense of extensively and aggressively testing our enhanced security measures. Our consumers’ safety remains our number one priority,” Hirai added. “We want to assure our customers that their personal information is being protected with some of the best security technologies available today, so that everyone can feel comfortable enjoying all that PlayStation Network and Qriocity services have to offer.”

Sony reiterated that it will present users with a "Welcome Back" package including premium content in order to make up for the breach and downtime. Details of which are set to be made available in the coming days.

For more information on the PlayStation Network restoration, visit the official PlayStation Blogs in Europe and North America.

Update @ 18:37 BST: The PlayStation Network is now back online in the UK.

<em>Update @ 18:10 BST, May 16th: Now up across all specified regions. Server load is causing some hiccups, but if you can't get on just try again.
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