back to article Reverser laments crypto game protection, says wares dead after 2018

A top video-game cracker says cryptographic anti-reverse-engineering technology could put an end to the prolific rate of game piracy. The Chinese reverser, known affectionately as Bird Sister, Phoenix, or Fifi, has published a short blog noting that the encryption technology protecting the popular Just Cause 3 title. " …

  1. Tom Chiverton 1

    It'll have to be crack able to be sold in the UK, thanks to the IP Bill...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Agreed - the UK and US governments are banning encryption and the protection of your data against them being able to look at it. Expect government back doors in games in future....

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        re: Expect government back doors in games in future....

        Posting stupid? Post anonymous.

        1. This post has been deleted by its author

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: re: Expect government back doors in games in future....

            Who is the dumbass?

            A (video game) cracker is someone who removes the copy protection of a video game, so lamers like you can copy it and play it for free (this may involved encrypting of the media, of the game itself and various other bits).

            Encrypted game chatter is something totally different.

            1. Dr. Mouse Silver badge

              Re: re: Expect government back doors in games in future....

              A (video game) cracker is someone who removes the copy protection of a video game, so lamers like you can copy it and play it for free the legitimate owner is able to use it without the ridiculous restrictions put in place by the writers

              FTFY.

              I have, on many occasions in the past, had to crack games that I legitimately own in order to use them in the way I want. For example, I cracked Quake 2 so I could run it without having the CD in the drive. Had I not, I would have ended up with unplayable game I paid good money for, simply because the CD had become scratched. I would also have had to find the CD every time I wanted to play it.

              Things have moved on, of course, but there are still legitimate reasons to crack a game you own. Many games, for instance, now require an internet connection, so you have to crack it to play it on a laptop away from home.

              Also, even if your original statement is true, most crackers don't do it so that people can play for free. They do it because they can, because it is a fun and interesting exercise for them.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: re: Expect government back doors in games in future....

                >even if your original statement is true, most crackers don't do it so that people can play for free. They do it because they can, because it is a fun and interesting exercise for them.

                Agreed, I was being sarcastic with the previous comment.

                I disagree with some of your arguments, and there is not much point discussing it.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        There are specific exemptions in inport/export rules for games / entertainment (and medical information), so I expect to see the same in any other US legislation. No help for me though: I want to export IOT SCADA devices. Dammed if you do, dammed if you don't.

  2. BongoJoe

    Good

    So she's extremely clever and I applaud her her skills, but I am cheering for the game manufacturers.

    Fighting the pirates is taking away resources away from developing other games which the rest of us can enjoy.

    1. Mage Silver badge

      Re: Good

      Indeed, why doesn't she and the teams do something useful for humanity instead of wasting time pirating games? That only allows more people to waste time and deprives the people developing them. The cost to develop a game is extremely high compared to producing a book or music.

      I'm 100% opposed to DRM, but this isn't the solution.

      1. Dan 55 Silver badge

        Re: Good

        Because as soon as the authentication server goes offline (company folds, title deleted, etc...) then you've lost the game.

        1. Mage Silver badge

          Re: Good

          "Because as soon as the authentication server goes offline (company folds, title deleted, etc...) then you've lost the game."

          Then is the time to break the DRM. Yes, DRM is stupid. But enabling "piracy" while the system is active is childish.

          DRM actually is contrary to Copyright, as copyright is supposed to expire eventually on any work. DRM is evil.

          1. SolidSquid

            Re: Good

            "Then is the time to break the DRM. Yes, DRM is stupid. But enabling "piracy" while the system is active is childish."

            If you're working with an authentication server then, chances are, once the authentication server goes dead there's no way for you to work out what it was sending back. Listening in on the traffic between the game and the authentication server is a large part of bypassing it, so it really does need to be done while the system is still active. Also, as with the new Simcity game, there are a lot of single player games which use an authentication server and don't need to, and turning off the authentication is a way to play it if you don't have reliable/working internet all the time (someone who plays games on their laptop while travelling for example)

            None of this justifies copyright infringement, but I can't really fault her with bypassing something which only hurts people who buy the game legitimately and risks the game going dark completely at some undefined point in the future

          2. martinusher Silver badge

            Re: Good

            You haven't been following trends in copyright law and practice.

            Copyright is supposed to expire but in practice corporations keep it going for ever. Its a milk cow, who'd give it up?

        2. phuzz Silver badge
          Facepalm

          Re: Good

          In this case, the servers for Just Cause 3 keep going offline <u>already</u>, leading to long waits for it to time out and finally offer you an offline option.

          Thanks Square Enix. Thquenix.

      2. Archie Woodnuts
        Trollface

        Re: Good

        > Do something useful for humanity.

        > Provides fun things to everyone for free.

      3. joed

        Re: Good

        But think of developers coming up with new copy protection scheme every new game release. Aren't they cutting the branch they sit on?

    2. inmypjs Silver badge

      Re: Good

      "Fighting the pirates is taking away resources away from developing other games which the rest of us can enjoy."

      And beating the pirates means the rest of us have to pay full price to find out if we do or don't enjoy a game so developers will worry less about making enjoyable games and more about bribing reviewers.

      CD Projekt Red knows if you make good games DRM is a waste of time.

      1. Captain DaFt

        Re: Good

        "And beating the pirates means the rest of us have to pay full price to find out if we do or don't enjoy a game"

        And this is why DRM will eventually come back to bite them in the ass.

        Unable try out a game before purchase? Money stays in pocket, or goes to help finance an Indie game writer on Patreon or Kickstarter.

    3. dotdavid

      Re: Good

      "So she's extremely clever and I applaud her her skills, but I am cheering for the game manufacturers.

      Fighting the pirates is taking away resources away from developing other games which the rest of us can enjoy."

      So the game developers are extremely clever and I applaud their skills, but I am cheering for the game pirates.

      Fighting the pirates is taking away resources from developing other games which the rest of us can enjoy. The sooner we all admit that DRM is counterproductive, being only an inconvenience for legitimate users, the sooner we can be done with one more legitimate excuse for software piracy.

  3. RonWheeler

    Demos

    If publishers produced demos of games it would delegitimize the whole scene. Till then, try before you buy is a valid consumer backlash..

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Demos

      Returning games and getting a refund is actually a thing, you know. Even on Steam these days.

      1. Joe Harrison

        Re: Demos

        On which planet? I bought CS-GO on Steam two days before they cut the price by half in their sale. I asked for a refund so I could re-buy it and they told me to get lost.

        1. BinkyTheMagicPaperclip Silver badge

          Re: Demos

          So? You weren't unhappy with the game, and at the time you bought it were satisfied with the transaction. That's the luck of the draw.

        2. Rimpel
          Facepalm

          How long had you played it for?

          You can only get a refund on steam if you have played the game for less than 2 hours.

          "We do not consider it abuse to request a refund on a title that was purchased just before a sale and then immediately rebuying that title for the sale price."

          1. SolidSquid

            Re: How long had you played it for?

            Really wish I'd thought of this when I picked up a copy of GTA 5 and still hadn't finished downloading it when the sales came and the price dropped by 40%

        3. Graham Bartlett

          Re: Demos

          On planets where normal sale-of-goods laws apply. If you buy a tin of beans from Tesco today for 30p, and then tomorrow you find they've got a special offer and the same beans are 20p, you don't get to take them back and re-buy them at the lower price. If you bought them, then you bought them.

          If there was something fundamentally wrong with it, then of course you could return it for a refund. But if you're just trying it on, expect people to tell you fo f*ck off and stop being a dipsh*t.

          1. Sam Liddicott

            Re: Demos

            It's not a matter of law, it's a matter of contract and negotiation with the seller and the buyer, and the rules imposed by the owner of the voluntary market place.

            Many vendors in the world allow and openly publicise this practice - it is good for the vendor, because it means that the prospective buyer does not delay a purchase hoping for a sale soon, but can buy now and get the sale price later if there is one (and if they also remember).

            It means the vendor might even sell-out and so not need to have the sale.

            Also, if you can buy a game and get a refund if it turns out to be rubbish/boring/easy then you are more likely to take a risk on it - you only have your time to lose.

            This strategy makes it easier to sell, and vendors who are confident in the quality and value of their goods can get much benefit as sales are easier.

          2. foxyshadis

            Re: Demos

            "On planets where normal sale-of-goods laws apply. If you buy a tin of beans from Tesco today for 30p, and then tomorrow you find they've got a special offer and the same beans are 20p, you don't get to take them back and re-buy them at the lower price. If you bought them, then you bought them."

            On what planet? Every Tesco I've set foot in will let you return anything but alcohol no questions asked, at which point you can walk back into the store and rebuy the same item. If the petrol and time is worth it to you then they aren't going to stop you. Some stores have more stringent return policies, but certainly not Tesco.

      2. Shadow Systems Silver badge

        Re: Demos

        Getting a refund on opened software? Not anywhere I've been in the last decade around here.

        Go to any store that sells computer software & they invariably include the clause that opened software can only be exchanged for the same title if the purchased copy was physicly damaged when you opened it, otherwise they don't give refunds nor even store credit.

        BestBuy, NewEgg, Target, Walmart, etc have all refused to accept opened software since long before I went blind ~6 years ago, and I doubt they've changed their policies since.

        They claim it's to protect against folks buying it, taking it home, opening & copying it, then bringing it back as "defective", only to go home & play their "free copy". The companies have a point & it's a massive PITA should you get your supposedly "new & unopened" title home only to find out the hard way that the jerk whom bought it before you has already used the reg code / DLC codes / etc, and the store simply re-shrink-wrapped it without any clue.

        So not sure where you live that allows the return & refund on opened software, but that's not been true in America for a very long time.

        1. This post has been deleted by its author

  4. Phil Kingston Silver badge

    I'm thinking she needs more horsepower than that old HP server she's using.

  5. Turtle

    A month.

    "It kept popular title Dragon Age: Inquisition uncracked for about a month."

    That's pretty good, but the most recent versions of Steinberg's digital audio workstation apps Cubase and Nuendo to have been cracked was v4 of each program, in 2008 - seven years ago. Of course, those apps use a usb dongle so it's not quite the same. (On all my systems the dongles have always worked completely transparently, even with three of them plugged in simultaneously. But that's a very large sum of money embodied in those little thumb-drive pieces of plastic.)

    I recall one of the Steinberg forum mods saying that if the protection lasted a month it was considered a success, as that seemed to be long enough for significant numbers of "early adopters" to get frustrated and actually pay for the apps instead of waiting for a cracked version.

    On the other hand, if a game can't be cracked, then one's ability to play the game would seem to be congruent with the life of the company that published the game: if the publisher goes under, you could be left without a means of installing and playing it. And with what AAA titles cost, that's a meaningful loss for a lot of people.

    1. AegisPrime
      Facepalm

      Re: A month.

      Similar story with iLok 2 (which has only just been cracked) although bizarrely, said cracker claims that they'd never looked at iLok protection before and cracked it over the course of two weeks because they were 'bored' (!)

      1. dotdavid

        Re: A month.

        I suspect there is more demand for users for cracked AAA computer games than for cracked computer audio software, and thus more "cred" in cracking them, so the pirates aim their efforts accordingly.

      2. John Robson Silver badge

        Re: A month.

        So if they are looking for a month's protection - why not say that, and release the keys after some amount of time - a year maybe?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: A month.

      Try plugging a USB security dongle into a virtual PC ...

      1. BinkyTheMagicPaperclip Silver badge

        Re: A month.

        That's easy. Either insert the dongle in to the VM via the USB emulation facility - which generally works fine, or alternatively use hardware passthrough to expose the entire USB controller/subset of the ports to the VM. That will work reliably.

        Note that if a passthrough is performed of the built in USB ports, or a multifunction adapter, rather than a single function adapter, the results may not be as expected.

        Say there are six ports, and a PCI(-e) device list shows 00:1a.0, 00:1a.1, 00:1a.2, 00:1f.0,00:1f.1, and 00:1f.2 it might be expected that passing 00:1a to the VM will provide three ports. It doesn't necessarily work that way - it'll probably be either one or five ports, as each controller handles USB1,2 and 3+ all bundled up in the same set of resources.

        1. david 12 Bronze badge

          Re: A month.

          >the USB emulation facility - which generally works fine, or alternatively use hardware passthrough

          YMMV. My hardware doesn't support passthrough, and the USB emulation facility doesn't work fine. (Works then requires a virtual machine reset).

      2. Naselus

        Re: A month.

        "Try plugging a USB security dongle into a virtual PC ..."

        If you don't know how to map a usb port onto a virtual PC, maybe you shouldn't be playing with virtualization in the first place.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: A month.

          Alright smartarse - I've got a VDI farm - a cluster of ESX servers running HA and DRS serving hundreds of Windows7 VMs - how the fuck do you get enough USB ports on those servers then map them to the correct VM whilst maintaining DRS

          1. BinkyTheMagicPaperclip Silver badge

            Re: A month.

            You don't - what was asked is how to add dongles to virtual machines, not how to migrate or do DR. VMWare is fancy enough that it'll attach a local USB device to a remote VM, which is certainly a neat trick. I've found Xen's USB support to be reasonably good, and KVM's to be a little less stable.

            There are also remote USB over IP products, which could theoretically support fault tolerance. That's left as an exercise for the reader.

        2. razorfishsl

          Re: A month.

          And you clearly do not know what you are talking about....

          I have at least one system in our company that cannot be virtualized due to the damned USB dongle....

  6. Tristan

    Just works

    I have solved the DRM problem by simply not buying any game which has any DRM. So I have the witcher 3, and Kerbal space program, but not much else.

    I don't agree with the idea of a game publisher's flaky server deciding when or if I get to play the game today, and the game is useless as soon as that server goes for whatever reason.

    So - DRM free or you aren't getting my money.

    1. Jess--

      Re: Just works

      I would have no objection to drm in games IF...

      the last action of the publisher before shutting down their auth servers was to release a patch that removed the drm from the game enabling people that have purchased the game to continue playing if they wish.

      Yes it would mean that the game would then effectively be free for anyone that can get hold of a copy (torrents etc) but since the publisher would no longer be selling or supporting the game by that point they could not argue that this represented any lost sales (in fact the counter argument could be that this older "free" version may lead to purchases of a newer version of a game in the series)

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Just works

        the last action of the publisher before shutting down their auth servers was to release a patch that removed the drm from the game

        Good look getting them motivated to do that, when they've already taken and spent your money.

        since the publisher would no longer be selling or supporting the game by that point they could not argue that this represented any lost sales (in fact the counter argument could be that this older "free" version may lead to purchases of a newer version of a game in the series)

        And the counter-counter argument being that if a customer is satisfied with the older game, and can continue to play it, then they have less incentive to buy the newly released (yet remarkably similar) sequel to said game.

      2. Amorous Cowherder

        Re: Just works

        "the last action of the publisher before shutting down their auth servers was to release a patch that removed the drm from the game enabling people that have purchased the game to continue playing if they wish."

        That will never happen. The Abandonware and Retro scenes have plenty of cases where the ownership of some old product, sometimes upwards of 25 years old, is still held by some company and they've enforced their ownership by way of take down notices and in court summons in some extreme cases. Nintendo are particularly vicious in regard to their ownership. Nintendo software is one of the few systems that a lot of "legit" retro sites will not deal with as they know that the big N's lawyers will come down on them hard, and for most it's just a hobby sharing some naff old software no one wants anymore. Companies hold the rights just in case they can monetize it again in future. How many companies or individuals are are making money with old Spectrum software by releasing it through mobile phone emulators, etc.

        1. Dan 55 Silver badge

          Re: Just works

          The irony is (if it's that) is that Nintendo lock purchases to consoles, on the Wii and even on the Wii U where on every other system if you log in on another device you can re-download.

          If your console breaks you lose the purchases unless you pay Nintendo to fix it, in which case they give you a reconditioned one and transfer the account to the new console. Their Wii to Wii U transfer might not transfer everything if the title was withdrawn from the Wii Shop. You are better off buying the disc version than a full price DRM download.

          So they don't exactly do themselves any favours with DRM.

    2. Naselus

      Re: Just works

      "DRM free or you aren't getting my money."

      This is true of a lot of people - it's fairly well understood that aggressive DRM can really hurt sales rather than improving them, and the protection it offers is so limited that a lot of publishers refuse to use it.

      1. Mage Silver badge

        Re: Just works

        Yes. The Coffee pod machine maker discovered that people don't want DRM with Coffee

    3. SolidSquid

      Re: Just works

      "I have solved the DRM problem by simply not buying any game which has any DRM. So I have the witcher 3, and Kerbal space program, but not much else"

      Take a look at GOG.com, you can get a lot more than just those two and none of their games use DRM afaik. Even the installers can be just downloaded and stored locally if you like

      1. Adam Azarchs

        Re: Just works

        Many, but not all GOG games are DRM-free. There is a search filter you can apply for it. Generally the older (retro) games are DRM free, but newer ones are less consistent about it.

        1. Turtle

          @Adam Azarchs Re: Just works

          "not all GOG games are DRM-free"

          I'm pretty sure that this is wrong. But if you have a link to a DRM'ed game on GOG, I'd be interested in knowing.

        2. RNixon

          Re: Just works

          There is not one single game on GOG that has DRM.

          Every single game can have its installer downloaded (without a special client), sneakernetted to an internet-less PC, installed, and played.

          There are some games that need a CD key for an online component (generally older titles) or require a login on the developer's server for multiplayer, but even those play just fine offline.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Cracking Vs game playing

    I used to crack games many moons ago. The reason? It was more fun than playing them. I even got to read hidden messages inside the protections begging me to stop. Games/things will always get cracked because the challenge will always be there. It will still be pirated even if not fully cracked just like PS3 games.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Cracking Vs game playing

      If people want to crack games for the fun of it, then nothing to stop them. But then to show their skills, they only have to offer proof of cracking - not the entire game itself.

      Dodgy analogy - I could prove that the lock on the vault of the local bank is insecure, by breaking in and taking a selfie with the dismantled lock. I don't have to return the following night with someone else so they can take a bunch of fivers as proof. (I think I know what I'm getting at...)

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Cracking Vs game playing

        Crackers don't release games, they only release the cracks.

        The release groups are the ones that provide the disk images or installers themselves, and typically add the crack to the distribution.

  8. This post has been deleted by its author

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Will be interesting to see what happens...

    I'm kind of looking forward to seeing what happens to the games market if this actually comes true. If piracy was reduced to zero, or at least close enough to zero so as to no longer be statistically relevant (at least on AAA titles).

    At that point I'd expect to see something like a 5%, perhaps up to 10% increase in sales, as a few of the previous people who would have just pirated, now buying the products instead. *

    With the publishers finally realising that the ridiculous fugues they've been banding about over the last decade or more, around lost sales were wildly inaccurate. That the millions they've pored into DRM over the years, actually cost them more than the revenue lost due to piracy or people avoiding their games due to the over restrictive DRM itself.

    * Most pirates in my experience buy the games they like at some point anyway, Steam sales etc. pirate out of a dislike of a specific DRM, i.e. online DRM requirement for a single player game etc. Or download the crack, to remove the DRM from a purchased game.

    1. silent_count

      Re: Will be interesting to see what happens...

      Back when I had more time to play games, I used to make sure there was a working No-CD crack before I'd even consider buying a game (life's too short to spend it switching CDs for every damn program, just to pander to the publishers' paranoia).

      So I'm not so sure, AC, that perfect DRM actually would increase sales, or whether there would be enough people like me who'd sooner find something else to spend their time on.

      These days I buy off gog.com (all DRM free), or not at all.

    2. Captain DaFt

      Re: Will be interesting to see what happens...

      "At that point I'd expect to see something like a 5%, perhaps up to 10% increase in sales, as a few of the previous people who would have just pirated, now buying the products instead."

      I'd expect the opposite. With the ability to play the game when and how you like scuppered, I'm sure many people will just look elsewhere.

  10. Nuno trancoso

    It will hold true if they keep locked in the "bragging rights" mentality. If they push past through that, you'll see them come up as a "community" writing actual frameworks and not "personal tools". Security did it, VX'ers are doing it, reverser's are the next logical step.

    Moment you can rely on a framework to "auto-unwrap" anything known and that can be expanded as unknown comes into play, "protection" is a moot point.

    p.s. i don't support piracy, it's just that i support DRM and anti-cheat|hack|crack shitty rootkit like software even less.

  11. jake Silver badge

    Out of curiosity ...

    Why the hell didn't this person, who obviously has ability, get a job that earns six figures (depending on jurisdiction, of course!). I mean really, cracking games? Does she honestly think she'll have a job after her own self-admitted criminal activity is effectively extinguished?

    Curiosity is good ... Carry on.

    Revealing the internals to the GreatUnwashed? Maybe not so much, if you want a career.

    1. Naselus

      Re: Out of curiosity ...

      For all you know, she does. She might crack games in her spare time, when not doing her day job in sigint.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Out of curiosity ...

      Most crackers it's not a job, they're very smart people who are need of a challenge and enjoy the kudos of the chase. They often trade grudging respectful comments with those who write the protection schemes. The protection writers can't be seen to be making public statements, unlike the reversers and crackers who often will be quite public in their comments.

      By way of example, back in the day there was one very well known cracking group working on the Atari ST games, the group's head honcho worked for the Post Office as a delivery driver by day and a games protection cracker by night. He had a wife and family to support, working in the PO gave him an easy way to shift the titles and more importantly he was home early to a quiet house where he could work for a few hours on the latest games.

  12. PassiveSmoking
    Big Brother

    Don't worry Fifi, the UK government amongst others are moving to make the encryption technology that protects such products from piracy illegal, or at least neutered to the point of uselessness, because terrorism. Their ignorance should ensure that legitimate uses of encryption such as protecting copyrighted works from the likes of you will cease, because as everybody knows if you're not a government then there are no legitimate uses for encryption.

  13. Ian Emery Silver badge
    Black Helicopters

    She's Chinese and a computer expert

    So she probably works for the PLA, who maybe even encourage her to crack these games.

    Just a thought; she certainly has no fear of arrest if she is willing to post photos of herself.

    Is that the Chinese knock-off of the Blackhawk I hear???

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

  14. Missing Semicolon
    Happy

    Auto spell checker error....

    I suspect "wares" should be spelt "warez"

  15. Cynic_999 Silver badge

    If you have complete control over the hardware the code is running on, encryption might slow down the ability to crack it, but cannot prevent it. In the worst case you stick an ICE into your hardware and capture the code as it is executed by the CPU - which obviously cannot be encrypted.

  16. Zot

    Either way..

    ..buying stuff properly is the grown up thing to do, no matter how many excuses to pirate software people can think of.

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