Pissed off gamers had a hand in tracking down Half-Life 2 code thieves.

There’s an interesting article at Guardian Unlimited’s website about how gamers played a large role in hunting down the hackers who broke into Valve Software’s network and stole the Half-Life 2 code last year.

The hunt for the hackers centred around two major investigations. The first was led by the FBI’s Cybercrime Task Force, who examined machines for clues as to the source of the hack, then find that machine and so on.

“The second investigation was run by the gaming community. Fairly quickly after the source code was leaked, we sent out mail to the gaming community appealing for assistance in tracking down the perpetrators. We set up an email alias for people to submit information, and amassed thousands of pieces of evidence in a few days. That information was also redistributed within the community itself, as a smaller group took it upon itself to unmask the people. This non-traditional approach had the advantage of scale and of involving a large number of very sophisticated and motivated people.”

It wasn’t long before both parties made inroads into identifying the thieves, with the gaming’ community and the FBI independently tracking the primary hacker to Germany.

The risk of being caught prompted the primary instigator to contact Newell. He admitted hacking into Valve’s server, but denied any role in the theft, instead naming those responsible for distributing the stolen code. “We now had three independent ways of confirming this primary instigator and, through conversations with this individual, had convinced him to fly out to us in Seattle for a job interview. The plan was changed so German authorities would do the arrests on German soil,” says Newell.

Not only was the incomplete code posted to the Net, but boxed copies of the partial game showed up in the Ukrainian and Russian black markets. Gabe Newell described his reaction when he first found out about the theft as follows: “It’s analogous to JK Rowling waking up to find the outline to the next Harry Potter book online.”

Just goes to show it doesn’t pay to mess with hardcore gamers when it’s one of the most anticipated titles in years.

4 thoughts on “Pissed off gamers had a hand in tracking down Half-Life 2 code thieves.

  1. I’m so proud of the gaming community!  It just goes to show you that video games really don’t corrupt the values of said individuals quite like the anti-electronic game groups would like the wider public to believe.

  2. Ok, i’ve said this in the somewhat distant past here, but i think this is a good opportunity to drive the position further home:  The idea of Intellectual Property should die a quick, ugly death.

    I have no problem paying a fee to own a hard-drive or a rocking chair.  These are physical items organised to provide a service.  More importantly, their physical nature makes their ownership (read: use) limited.  Owning a slab of resources that provide a service is completely understandable.

    But, software?  Many lines of code organised to provide a service?  These replicated lines should not be owned.  It’s logistically a big, big problem.

    It’s such a problem that, as in your article, companies are sometimes spending more money in both infrastructure and humans to protect the idea of its copy being equal to some amount of cash (read: resources).  We’re beyond that phase of property.

    The day is soon coming, possibly heralded by some economic collapse/re-organisation, where thought is never, ever anyone’s property.  Limiting the acquisition of other’s thoughts (books, music, art of all media sorts, software, etc) limits our collective development of information into knowledge.

    I see an infoworld where services are property, and you pay for information to be massaged, for an ability to do this or that in a medium.  People might argue that this would mean the death of art, of music, of this or that medium.

    It would mean the death of art without use or function, and that wouldn’t be bad at all.

    .rob adams

  3. Oh well, it really doesn’t matter when Half-Life 2 (or S.T.A.L.K.E.R. for that matter) comes out. I won’t be able to afford that kind of CPU-power for at least a year or two more wink

    As to rob adams:

    Intellectual property rights will remain a necessity. I’m an author of sorts (meaning like many people I’m hoping to publish a book of mine some day) and I can tell you that I *DO* want money for my work. Writers have to live too.

    Information does not ‘want to be free’. Thats nonsense. What the copyright discussion should be about is fair use and modern distribution channels – and NOT about depriving the creators of their revenue.

    By the way, info services, what you seem to refer to in the latter part of your post, are NOT really different from books/songs and so on. Its simply data manipulated in a certain way. Books are that too. Music is that too. Someone took words and sounds and put them together in a certain way. He’s entitled to compensation – even if his creation is easily duplicatable.

    PS: Les, I still wonder about why no names are visible in the comments header…?

  4. Half-Life 2 will reportedly run on as little as a 700MHz system.

    As for names in the comment header, I’m not quite sure what you mean. The name of each poster is right there in front of the date. I see it just fine.

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