Arena Net, the development company behind Guild Wars and Guild Wars 2, recently banned about 1,600 players after accusing them of using cheating software. Allegedly, Arena Net found the suspected cheaters by using spyware.
The story starts on Saturday when a spokesperson for Arena Net announced on the game forums that the developer had suspending 1,583 accounts for six months. The reasoning: those players were using "programs that allow players to cheat and gain unfair gameplay advantages."
The story was broken by Motherboard, who report:
According to Fabian Wosar, a security researcher and one of the Guild Wars 2 players banned, ArenaNet was able to spot the alleged cheaters thanks to what essentially amounts to spyware. In a Reddit post, Wosar explained that he reverse-engineered Guild Wars 2 updates over the last few weeks and said that a March 6 update included a program that surreptitiously scanned the player's computer looking for other apps and processes that could be used to cheat in the game.
"Arena decided it was okay to just snoop around in the processes I was running and decided it found something it didn't like," Wosar wrote on Reddit. "The problem is, that just because you have a process running that could potentially be used to cheat in your game, doesn't mean it is used to cheat in your game. […] Based on the data Arena gathered on my system, Arena doesn't know whether I cheated in their game either. All they do know is, that I had processes running that could be used for cheating."
Wosair insists he has never cheated or used bots in Guild Wars 2, but said he had the apps that ArenaNet deemed suspicion on his computer because of his job. So he was in possession of the targeted applications, he just wasn't using them for Guild Wars. Thus the only way they would know he had the applications is by scanning his computer's harddrive.
In their statement, even Arena Net acknowledged that the programs aren't inherently malicious.
"1,516 accounts were suspended because we detected that the accounts were running Guild Wars 2 at the same time as one or more of the following programs over a significant number of hours during a multi-week period earlier this year," the company wrote. "We targeted programs that allow players to cheat and gain unfair gameplay advantages, even if those programs have other, more benign uses."
As for that spyware, well. Despite the fact that its a total breach of privacy, Motherboard's sources were pretty adamant that it wasn't particularly sophisticated.
According to Wosar, the technique ArenaNet used was also not very sophisticated, as it couldn't really tell if the player was using the suspected software to cheat on Guild Wars 2.
"The method they are using is unfit for the purpose of cheat detection," Wosar said.
Josh Watson, a senior security engineer at Trail of Bits, said he agreed that the anti-cheat system could be considered "spyware" but that it would be "trivial" to bypass this detection technique. Even so, it likely was highly effective anyway.
"They probably found shit pretty easy because I doubt a lot of people expected Guild Wars to be doing this," Watson told me in an online chat. "But for other games that are known to have anti-cheat stuff, this is kid stuff."
This does bring back up the broader conversation about cheating in video games that's been going on essentially since the medium took off. As long as games existed, so have cheats. Its only been in the last decade or so that cheating has become a major gaming faux pas. And while there certainly are game developers that have gone to greater extremes to crack down on in-game cheating, this move by Arena Net is something of a shock. Its not like Guild Wars 2 is notorious for an overabundance of cheaters. Also, there are better ways to catch bot users than running spyware on every one of your players' machines. Naturally, the Guild Wars community is not pleased.