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Hacking WoW and the pursuit of knowledge

The Warden vs. The Governor

It's okay to cheat

WoW hacking has other similarities to the non-game software security struggles, including the cat-and-mouse game played between those enforcing the rules and those trying to flout them. After growing wise to the bot scripts, Blizzard Entertainment, the provider of WoW, started sending agents into the game to query suspiciously drone-like characters with instant messages asking, in effect, "Hey, are you real?" So a hacker responded by modifying his bot so it forwarded all IMs by SMS to the hacker's cell phone, McGraw said.

McGraw's book, which is slated to hit book shelves next month and was co-written by Greg Hoglund, promises to contain plenty of hands-on demonstrations of how to hack MMORPGs. But his talk also spent considerable time discussing the ethics of the practice. His thesis: With a few exceptions - packet sniffers, denial of service attacks on opponents and the like - it's all perfectly OK.

For one thing, there are no laws that prohibit cheating in WoW and other games, and the end user license agreements (EULAs) are so chock full of ridiculous provisions that their ability to be held up in court are open to genuine debate.

"A lot of people think you can get in trouble for breaking EULAs," McGraw said. "It turns out EULA writers can get in trouble for asking improper things."

One of the legally specious requirements enforced by Blizzard is user permission to have software run on the player's machine that monitors instant messenger activity, open programs and other computer functions and reports them back to the company. The software, which Blizzard dubs The Warden, probably violates an anti-spyware statute in California, McGraw said.

So McGraw and Hoglund have responded with their own piece of software, which they call The Governor. It closely monitors The Warden and curtails activities the authors deem invasive.

Given there is no legitimate reason to argue against hacking MMORPGs, McGraw concluded, it would be irresponsible not to research how their rules can be circumvented. These games, after all, spawn real economies with gross domestic products that can rival many industrialized nations. What's more, the market for virtual assets such as land in Second Life or gold in WoW is large now and expected to mushroom to as high as $7bn in the next two years, according to IGE, a broker of MMORPG currency and assets.

Said McGraw: "Should we talk about breaking (MMORPG) systems? Absolutely we should, because otherwise we won't know how to build systems that don't suck." ®

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