Microsoft Security Engineer Warns “Those Of You Who Are Working On MMOGs, Organized Crime Is Already Looking At You!”

Video Game Law Blog

August 18, 2006

More than a little distress was caused this week when Microsoft security development engineer Dave Weinstein told developers at the Microsoft Gamefest that criminal elements are hacking into MMORPGs, stealing MMORPG account information, and selling it on the black market, effectively kidnapping and killing characters.

Weinstein outlined the following modus operandi taking advantage of chinks in a game's security software, criminals acquire account information and then illegally access accounts. Then, either the account information is sold on the black market or, more commonly, coveted in-game items and currency are stolen and turned into actual cash via online auction sites.

Virtual 'muggings"? also appear to be a problem in some MMOGs, where the aggressor uses software "bots" (thus making himself unbeatable) to beat up and then subsequently rob characters. The stolen virtual possessions were then exchanged for real cash. (see example here ). This, of course, is only possible in games where the victor of a fight can take the items of a fallen character, such is the case with Lineage II.

MMOG and MMORPG players spend at lot of time creating and building up their characters. With monthly subscriptions to games like World of Warcraft (paid) and Guild Wars (free) bringing an unending flow of new adventures, players spend hundreds of hours completing quests, accumulating experience, and acquiring gold and items. "For a lot of the customers out there, there is more store value on their MMOG characters than there is on the credit card with which they pay for the account.", Weinstein said.

Though most MMOG publishers are aware of such problems, Weinstein underscored the fact that real-world authorities are often unresponsive to in-game theft. "The police are really good at understanding 'Someone stole my credit card and ran up a lot of money,'" he said. "It's a lot harder to get them to buy into, 'Someone stole my magic sword.'"

Late last year, Square Enix dealt with a similar issue by banning 800 people from playing Final Fantasy XI, after it was found out that they were auctioning 'stolen"? items.  Another good way for online gaming companies to protect themselves is to ensure their license agreements and online terms of use agreements adequately deal with potential liability issues such as cheating, hacking, viruses and service interruptions.

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