Feeds

Hacking WoW and the pursuit of knowledge

The Warden vs. The Governor

Reducing security risks from open source software

USENIX Once upon a time, rising through the ranks in World of Warcraft was largely a matter of patience and stamina. For some beginners aspiring to online greatness, it meant spending hours in a virtual forest gathering leaves and later finding the elf who'd pay gold for them.

But spending hours huddling over a keyboard pecking at the same keys can be just a tad monotonous, so some players soon yearned for a way to automate all the repetition. And at the same time, WoW and other massively multiple online role-playing games (MMORPGs) became multi billion-dollar economies that could generate serious real-world money for sales of rare commodities in Fairy Land.

So the hacking of online games was inevitable, as absolute a certainty as gravity. That's the first thing Gary McGraw, co-author of the forthcoming book Exploiting Online Games: Cheating Massively Distributed Systems, wants you to know about the phenomenon. The second is that the hacking of these games matters to a hell of a lot more people than the geeks who frolick about in virtual landscapes casting spells and slaying ogres.

"These massive distribution systems are pushing the limits of software technology," said McGraw, during a session at this year's Usenix Annual Technical Conference in Santa Clara. "These are exactly the sorts of software security problems we should expect to see over the next decade in all massively distributed systems."

With about 12m paying customers, WoW was Exhibit 1 during the 90-minute talk. The game is so complex and massively distributed that its architects have no choice but to break off tiny chunks of the underlying software's "state" - variables such as a character's location that are supposed to be universal throughout the WoW universe - and let them run on an individual's machine.

It turns out these chunks of state are highly alterable, which makes it trivial for WoW users to change a character's X, Y and Z coordinates to give the illusion of flying or move to a more advantageous location.

Another hack uses code to automate a character's task of camping outside a cave in wait of monsters and stabbing them when they appear. A player who runs the bot shortly before going to bed can awake to find the character has pocketed plenty of gold left behind by the felled beasts.

Mobile application security vulnerability report

Next page: It's okay to cheat

More from The Register

next story
LibreSSL RNG bug fix: What's all the forking fuss about, ask devs
Blow to bit-spitter 'tis but a flesh wound, claim team
Microsoft: You NEED bad passwords and should re-use them a lot
Dirty QWERTY a perfect P@ssword1 for garbage websites
Manic malware Mayhem spreads through Linux, FreeBSD web servers
And how Google could cripple infection rate in a second
NUDE SNAPS AGENCY: NSA bods love 'showing off your saucy selfies'
Swapping other people's sexts is a fringe benefit, says Snowden
Own a Cisco modem or wireless gateway? It might be owned by someone else, too
Remote code exec in HTTP server hands kit to bad guys
British data cops: We need greater powers and more money
You want data butt kicking, we need bigger boots - ICO
Crooks fling banking Trojan at Japanese smut site fans
Wait - they're doing online banking with an unpatched Windows PC?
NIST told to grow a pair and kick NSA to the curb
Lrn2crypto, oversight panel tells US govt's algorithm bods
prev story

Whitepapers

Top three mobile application threats
Prevent sensitive data leakage over insecure channels or stolen mobile devices.
The Essential Guide to IT Transformation
ServiceNow discusses three IT transformations that can help CIO's automate IT services to transform IT and the enterprise.
Mobile application security vulnerability report
The alarming realities regarding the sheer number of applications vulnerable to attack, and the most common and easily addressable vulnerability errors.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
Consolidation: the foundation for IT and business transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.