The hacker claims to have turned the search and use of the shortcomings of popular MMO video games into profitable full-time work
The character of Manfred stands still in the virtual world of the science-fiction multiplayer game of 2014 WildStar Online. Manfred, a living person who manages the character, enters commands into the debugger. Within a few seconds of a seemingly simple hack, Manfred's virtual currency flies to more than 18,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 units, or 18 quintillion.
I watch this in a demo video recorded by Manfred, standing next to him in The Las Vegas bar on Thursday. Manfred, who asked me not to mention his real name, says he has been hacking several video games for 20 years, and earns real money on burglaries similar to what I saw right now. His mode of action is slightly different from the game to the game, but, in fact, consists of fraudulent actions that force games to give him objects or currency in excess of what he was supposed to. He sells these items or currency to other players for real money or sells wholesale in gray online game markets, for example, the Internet Game Exchange, which then sells these virtual things to players.
At the current exchange rate, Manfred suggests that he has gold from WildStar for $ 397 million. This is a huge number, but its income is limited only by the capacity of the real market for in-game currency.
When I talked with Manfred before his report at the Def Con hacker conference, he said he wants to go there, give this demo, and leave "Like a ghost," so that no one else sees or hears it. He said that he wants to be "invisible", as in the last 20 years. He discovered more than a hundred unknown to the general public of vulnerabilities in more than 20 online games, and turned the hacking and trading of virtual goods into a full-fledged work.
Unlike most game hackers, Manfred does not use cheats to gain an advantage over rivals. He breaks into games because he lives by it.
"The best hacks are invisible, because you change the rules so that no one understands what is happening," says Manfred. – When hacking video games, the main goal is to be invisible. You do not need to interfere with the players, you do not need the gaming company to learn about your hacking. You do not even need them to know that what you are doing is generally possible. "
On Saturday, Manfred left the shadows and told his story for the first time during his speech. First he wanted to crack WildStar Online in front of the audience, use unknown zero-day vulnerabilities so that his report was not recorded. But the organizers of the conference told him that all the speeches must be recorded, so he did not do hacking alive – to the great annoyance of the audience.
Starting with Ultima Online, one of the first massive multiplayer online games, Manfred looked for ways to hack games To get virtual money or goods that he then sold first on eBay and then on Chinese online markets.
Manfred, refusing to tell how much money he earned for his career, says he did not deal with cheating, To defeat other games Fetters. He considers himself a service provider: he offered in-game purchases before they even appeared.
"I do not like calling them 'hacks,'" Manfred told me laughing. – It's more like finding unintended opportunities in the protocol.
The first hacking
It all started in 1997, when he played in Ultima Online. At that time on the Internet, he went out on dialak, because of what he was constantly killed by players with the best Internet connection. To compensate for the failures, he found ways to deceive the game.
Once from boredom he discovered an error that was destined to change his life. In Ultima Online there was a limited set of houses that can be created in the game, so this resource was rare. Manfred says he discovered a way to remove the houses of other players and gain control over their territory, which allowed him to build more houses than was normally allowed.
Once he came up with the idea to set up a castle from Ultima Online on eBay and see , Whether someone will buy it. As a result, he sold it for almost $ 2,000 (he says he has since sold nearly 100 houses at an average price of $ 2000).
"It's real money! Manfred recalls his thought. "They helped me pay for my college education." I sold houses and castles from Ultima Online three or four years in a row. "
The character of Manfred (in purple robes) after the theft of the house
But Ultima Online was just the beginning, Manfred claims that over the past twenty years he has found ways to hack and earn on several games: Lineage 2, Shadowbane, Final Fantasy XI, Dark Age of Camelot, RIFT, Age Of Conan, Star Wars New Republic, Guild Wars 2, and others.
"I was a wholesale supplier for most of these games," says Manfred.
For example, in Dark Age Of Camelot Manfred discovered a vulnerability Which allowed him to go out and come back into the game in such a way that the game did not notice, as a result of which he could clone his character and the valuables he contained.
"I could create as much money as I wanted. Was invisible to other players and the company that created the game, "says Manfred. "It was a 12-year source of profit."
Most of the time, his break-ins passed unnoticed. One exception was Shadowbane. This game, he said, was so easy to crack – hackers could send to the game server any data, and the game believed them – that he created and other players described the chaos in the magazine Wired in 2003.
"This Was my last malicious hacking, "Manfred said. "Then I went underground and did everything to prevent my break-ins from being noticed."
Manfred says that he may be the only person who has broken into games for so long. But there are many other people involved in hacking to deceive the game and win. Probably, there are others involved in this for money, since some of the vulnerabilities found by him are easy enough to find a hacker with strong motivation.
Now this is the Wild West, he says. "You can make a lot of money, and a lot of people do it every day."
And not just single hackers. In 2011, in South Korea, a group of hackers were arrested and accused of working on hacking video games and making money for the North Korean government. South Korean police reported that the hacker team earned $ 6 million in two years.
Exit from the Shadow for the Common Good
For Manfred, the current way out of the shadows is a chance to show the world that video games need to take security seriously. Most of the hacks he made in 20 years, according to him, were based on very similar mistakes.
"It's all such a marmot day, you play a game, find vulnerabilities, you get banned, you go to another game," Manfred said. During the report.
Manfred says that he has now finished with video game hacking. Last year he stopped doing this and got a job in a consulting firm.
"It was a good time," he told me. But he did away with this, because the business model of video games has changed. Since many companies now earn in-game purchases, he does not consider it fair to compete with their economic strategy.
"It became inconvenient for me to do what I did," he says.
WildStar Online Live was supposed to be the last video game hack for Manfred. But he decided not to. After the report, Manfred told me that he will report on the vulnerability in NCSOFT – the company that made WildStar Online – and help fix it.
Perhaps video game hacking is similar to the Wild West, but now Manfred directs his horse to the sunset.