Hacking and video games have always seemed to go together. From the early days of the Konami code that saw gamers getting extra lives, to modern games like Watch Dogs where the whole point of the franchise is to play as a hacker, the two activities have been seemingly intertwined. But not all hacking is the same, and not all hackers are edgy but safe.
In honor of Safer Internet Day over in the UK, it’s useful to take a look at one of the biggest activities online: gaming. From Candy Crush to Fortnite, Call of Duty to CS:GO, the games are more popular than ever.
But just how far will players go to win, and who could lose out in the process?
A Legacy of Gaming and Hacking
The idea of using cheat codes in gaming has been around for decades. One of the most well-known was the Konami Code, which had players tapping up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, Start – when loading a game to get unique rewards.
Similar codes would appear in other games. Codes like these were often used by developers to give them more lives or ammunition while testing and creating games – but then they weren’t removed when the game shipped to retail.
Other codes exploited issues in the game programming itself. These eventually led to devices like the Game Genie, which would “hack” into the code and let players easily access these extras with an easy-to-navigate interface.
But the hacking went further, with many players hacking into the original source code of the game itself.
This was a way for up-and-coming developers to peek behind the curtain, to understand how a game might be made and eventually code their own creations. It was how modding of games became so popular, with player communities adapting games to appeal to their wider interests. In recent years, players even managed to use these techniques to fix a game’s broken AI and improve the overall experience of playing Aliens: Colonial Marines.
This has also led to some blurry lines.
Of course, game developers don’t want players to crack their programming and resell games on the black market. They don’t want their games to be copied or stolen by hackers. But, as a general rule, they are happy for players to dig deeper into the experience, to understand how all the pieces fit together, and to see for themselves that games only come together by some kind of magic that not even the developers themselves always comprehend:
It’s frustrating that in 2019, people still don’t understand that for networks of this size day-one server issues are an internet infrastructure issue, not a developer issue. The internet is a broken piece of duct-taped wires that we expect magic from. https://t.co/v4WcrbgHi4
— Rami Ismail (@tha_rami) January 26, 2019
Harm-free Hacking for Profit
Because of the sheer scale of games, there are often insecurities in the code that players or hackers can exploit. Sometimes, this can happen by accident and will only have a real impact on the player themselves, like this glitch that creates unlimited blood echoes in Bloodborne.
However, with multiplayer games, these sorts of glitches can become a source of real revenue.
This hacker has found exploits in Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) games for years, living off of the revenue. He started playing Ultima Online and found a way to delete people’s houses, take over their lots and build more houses.
One day, he did this and built a castle that he went to sell on eBay, picking up almost $2,000 for his efforts. Of course, this led to a full-time career hacking online games and selling virtual currency, rare items and real estate. As he called it, he created microtransactions before the developers ever did.
However, he has retired from this profession thanks to the changing face of online gaming. Whereas previously, game developers would make their money from selling games or subscriptions, now they also offer services similar to what the hacker did, letting players pay for more currency, access to better items and more. As a result, our harmless hacker decided to bow out of the industry so that he wasn’t taking food out of the game developers’ mouths.
The Dangers of Game Hacking
The problem comes now that games are increasingly played online and not all hackers are simply looking to exploit game systems.
Many are actively looking to hack and take over other players’ accounts. But it usually isn’t anything personal, or a way of beating another player, but rather a means of making quick money.
For example, some teens playing Fortnite have confessed to hacking other players’ accounts. Once they have access, they sell off their rare skins or items, with many hackers making hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars a day from these activities. It is reminiscent of a similar issue that has been in popular games like Team Fortress 2 and CS:GO for years.
Hackers can get a range of information, depending on what they’re looking for. Some hackers might be purely in it for the rare skins or items players have linked to their accounts, while others will access login details, credit card credentials and more.
Because most people use the same password on multiple accounts, simply getting login details can give a hacker access to a wide range of your personal information. Even if those hackers don’t want said information, they can usually sell it on to other people online and get even more cash.
How to Protect Yourself from Hackers
One of the first and best ways that you can keep yourself safe from hackers is by protecting your username and password. This means using a unique password for every site you visit and game you play.
Make your life simple by using a password manager to remember all the different logins. Whether you let Google or Apple recommend and store passwords for you, or you use a recommended password manager like LastPass, doing so can make it easy to create a secure password everywhere you go.
It’s also worthwhile to change your password every now and then. PlayStation went through a period when it was getting hacked regularly, as did Steam and Xbox. Facebook has leaked tons of information and even the major credit agencies have had insecurities in recent years. Whenever you hear about these breaches, log in to your gaming accounts and change the passwords. It won’t take long, but it could protect you in the long run.
And remember, if you get emails or calls asking for your personal information, always assume it’s a scam. Instead of following a link from an email, head to the site yourself in a new tab or window. Be wary. You might end up seeming a little paranoid, but your personal data is worth it.