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Spyware, Rootkits, and Online Games

Posted 10-17-2008 at 01:06 PM by NoeJeko
Updated 02-18-2009 at 09:40 PM by NoeJeko
I originally posted this on the Ntreev Trickster Online forums in response to an uninformed claim that someone [seriously doubted Ntreev would put spyware on everyone's computer]. The original post can be found here ...

Trickster Online Revolution - Leaked GM operator tool?

... and is quoted at the end of this blog.

So, do game companies actually infect your computer with spyware? If they do, is this practice ethical and is it legal?

I found it interesting to note that's download page for Trickster Online marked it as "spyware free". According to the previous definitions of Spyware and the noted behavior of nProtect's GameGuard, this program qualifies as spyware and is not an optional component of the game's installation. If you do not run GameGuard, you cannot run Trickster Online. Browsing Ntreev's Terms of Service will tell you nothing of your "implied consent" to install GameGuard. The EULA that you accept when installing the game says nothing about installation of 3rd party programs. Sound familiar? Most virus/spyware programs don't tell you they're being installed.

Granted, you won't see GameGuard popping up on popular security scams or websites, but that depends upon what you consider spyware. I personally consider spyware to be any unwanted program that adversely affects my computer's performance.

So, do GameGuard/other cheat protection engines fall under this realm?
  • They close legitimate programs without user consent and without an option to leave the program running.
  • They conflict with common anti-virus software suites and the only workaround seems to be disabling of said anti-virus or firewall
  • They hide the process of the game it protects from view in the Windows Task Manager
  • They transmit information regarding your usage and system configuration back to the game publishers
  • They cause conflicts with Windows services and drivers - namely audio.
  • They conflict with operating system security patches, and often the publishers recommend you uninstall the security patch (source: Privacy Experts: Legislation Needed To Curb Video Game Spyware - San Diego News Story - KGTV San Diego)
  • They are not listed in EULAs or Terms of Service documents.

I believe that, given this list, a reasonable person could come to the conclusion that GameGuard (and other hack protection engines) is at the very least spyware, if not an actual virus!

Original Ntreev forum post:
Originally Posted by NoeJeko
Oh, it's been done in the past. Sony was sued for putting rootkits on their CDs that hid processes from the end user in an attempt to obfuscate their DRM enforcement (source: Wikipedia: Sony Rootkit). Gameguard itself performs actions without your consent; every time I connect to Grand Chase (Ntreev/GameGuard) or Albatross18 (OGPlanet/GameGuard), GameGuard closes my mIRC program stating that it's a virus. I'm not too keen on a program closing another program without my authorization. When you run Trickster as an admin user (on vista/this is the default on XP), you basically give that program unmetered authority to do whatever it wants on your system.

By Wikipedia and Merriam-Webster's definitons of "spyware", Ntreev does indeed install spyware on your computer - and so does every other game company that uses a similar "cheat protection" engine.
Spyware is computer software that is installed surreptitiously on a personal computer to intercept or take partial control over the user's interaction with the computer, without the user's informed consent.
(source: Wikipedia: Spyware)
software that is installed in a computer without the user's knowledge and transmits information about the user's computer activities over the Internet
(source: Merriam-Webster: Spyware)

Research for this blog was conducted using Ntreev USA's Trickster Online, Ntreev USA's Grand Chase, OGPlanet's Albatross 18, OGPlanet's LaTale, Electronic Arts' Battlefield 2172, Wikipedia, Merriam-Webster, and other assorted articles found on Google (cited in text).

It should be noted I referenced Ntreev, USA because the article started on their forum; this is not intended as a slam against Ntreev as every publisher that uses a similar protection engine falls under the scope of this article.

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Posted in MMO Industry
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Total Comments 6


  1. Bob's Avatar
    I has virus on my compootor Q__Q?
    Posted 10-17-2008 at 01:25 PM by Bob Bob is offline
  2. khyle's Avatar
    I consider game guard as a spyware,
    such mediocre cheat protection engine's only use is sending info about your computer
    I doubt they are interested in that much data,
    they cant even entertain their 1:1 reports .__.
    Posted 10-17-2008 at 07:00 PM by khyle khyle is offline
  3. Miyuki's Avatar
    I don't think game developers should replies much on third party protection such as gameguard, if they failed to fix their own flaw @ their own game...then it's useless to have gay, er, gameguard anyway ._.

    Gameguard just...almost just a waste of resources.
    Posted 10-17-2008 at 07:14 PM by Miyuki Miyuki is offline
  4. Zegridathes's Avatar
    I haven't researched either too extensively (ie. tried monitoring exactly what they are doing while running). But, I don't think Gameguard is nearly as intrusive as the now-infamous copy protection software used most notably by EA on their PC games, SecuROM.

    AFAIK, once you have closed the game GG stops running whereas SecuROM 'attaches' itself to your OS.

    Regardless of the actual effects, I think publishers owe it in the name of full disclosure to list everything their software installs now-a-days. With the amount of peoples lives that are now being stored on their computers, not telling them about potential negative interactions with other programs is tantamount to a plumber installing a toilet in your house and 'conveniently failing' to mention that he's hidden a webcam inside it to make sure you don't 'use it the wrong way'.

    srsly creepy.
    Posted 10-17-2008 at 10:24 PM by Zegridathes Zegridathes is offline
  5. j0eL's Avatar
    Did you know Grand Chase sends out an email to Ntreev without your consent every time it crashes? Sure you can press X, or alt+F4, but it already sent it.
    Posted 10-18-2008 at 11:36 AM by j0eL j0eL is offline
  6. khyle's Avatar
    disclosure of everything these companies installs to the average person's PC is somewhat irrelevant to them
    most people dont care what else is installed unless they are told about those really do to their PCs
    regardless they should at least do so for those who wants to know what else is installed during installation
    Posted 10-19-2008 at 02:34 AM by khyle khyle is offline
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