06 February 2008

Haxx0ring 4tw

When I heard that Hoglund and McGraw were writing a book about Exploiting Online Games, I just had to have a copy. It's the best book purchase I've made this year, and I think it's a great book for my crowd, the MMO game developers.

I've written on this topic before, and I feel very strongly that the game development industry doesn't give enough thought about black hats who will be on your system.

That being said, not all hackers are malicious. When I first started hacking Ultima Online in 2002, it was mostly out of curiosity. I drank up as much information about UO as I could find. My hacks were never malicious in nature; I never tried to crash the server or cheat other players or anything. I was just a programmer with a love of the game and a penchant for the low level workings of machines. And I was getting bored trying to tame a bajillion animals to get my skill up.

I discovered for myself most of the techniques that Hoglund and McGraw talk about in their book. My first tool was a keyboard/mouse macro program. By then I was curious about what kind of stuff was going over the network, so I set out trying to get at the data. As expected, it was encrypted. Instead of trying to crack the encryption, I wanted to find something easier: how do I make the client tell me the decrypted info? I eventually produced a DLL that I could inject into the client which would re-write some machine code and forward me the messages. Voila! The tools started getting really interesting now. In no time, I had a packet logger, apps that pointed me to hidden objects on the ground, and a simple macro program making the aforementioned taming much easier.

After reading through the book I dug out my old code and sat down with a blanket by the fire for a good read. The code wasn't pretty but the things it was doing were pretty amazing.

But now I work on the other side of the fence. I have to think about why people want to hack and how it affects everything. It all comes down to money. That and an impatient fast-paced culture. Simple economics teach us about supply and demand. If there were no demand for gold, then gold farmers would move on to doing something else. You can do all you want trying to detect, ban, or threaten farmers until you're blue in the face; that's where the money is, so that's what they'll be doing. Plus, there will always be more of them then there are of you. These are points that you learn in the industry, but Hoglund and McGraw spell out explicitly.

There's some stuff that you can do to mitigate the circumstances: don't rely on the client for anything and watch for irregularities on the server (economy logs, inhuman playing time, repetitive behaviors, etc). But I think there's another point that not many people discuss. I think you can make a difference in farming in your game design. If you design your game so that there is no player trading, you've effectively cut off the farming. But not being able to sell anything to other players has a problem: it isn't fun. The trick is striking a balance, but we haven't seen it yet.

If you are interested in how MMOs work and think about hacking software, this is the book for you. If you are a programmer in this industry, this book is definitely for you. Go buy it!


Nick McLaren said...

This is right up my alley! Thanks for the tip!



Anonymous said...

We miss you on the UO side..

Anonymous said...

Very interesting. You've peaked my curiosity enough to pick up the book. I had a lot of fun in a programming class that revolved around networking. This should be a good reading.