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.