7

Recently a news story came out about "Manfred", a hacker who makes a living exploiting bugs in online video games to make in-game currency (or items) which he then sells to other gamers. Here is a description:

A hacker says he turned finding and exploiting flaws in popular MMO video games into a lucrative, full-time job. Manfred's character is standing still in the virtual world of the 2014 sci-fi online multiplayer game WildStar Online. Manfred, the real life person behind the character, is typing commands into a debugger. In a few seconds of what seems to be an extremely easy hack, Manfred's virtual currency skyrockets up to more than 18,000,000,000,000,000,000, or 18 quintillion. I'm watching this hack in a demo video recorded by Manfred as I stand next to him in a Las Vegas bar on Thursday. Manfred, who asked me not to reveal his real name, says he has been hacking several video games for 20 years, making a real-life living by using hacks like the one I just witnessed. His modus operandi has changed slightly from game to game, but, in essence, it consisted of tricking games into giving him items or currency he doesn't have a right to have. He would then sell those items and currency to other players (for real money) or wholesales them to online gray markets, such as the Internet Game Exchange, that then would sell those goods to individual players. At the current exchange rate, Manfred estimates he has $397 trillion worth of WildStar gold. This is obviously an outlandish number, but, essentially, his income was only limited by the real-life market for the in-game currency. When I spoke to Manfred ahead of his talk at the Def Con hacking conference, he said he wanted to go in, give his demo, and go out "as a ghost," never to be seen or heard from again. He said he wanted to be "invisible," just like he's been for the past two decades. He said he's found more than 100 publicly unknown vulnerabilities in more than 20 online video games, making hacking and trading virtual goods into his full time job.

Note that the article describes him as a "hacker", but this is not really accurate terminology because he is not writing code. He is finding what security specialists call "exploits" in other people's code.

What is the legal status of doing this? Is it tort or is it criminal?

I know that people who have exploited, for example, slot machines have been found innocent or had charges dropped. For example, in the notorious case of John Kane, who exploited a buggy video poker system, he was punitively arrested, perp walked, and then indicted by the FBI on Computer Fraud charges. Eventually he refused to plea bargain with them, and they dropped their bogus case, allowing him to finally walk free after a couple of years of persecution by the full force of the US government. Nobody ever apologized for destroying his house with their "search warrant".

Is the situation of Manfred more or less the same legally, or is there a difference?

  • +1 Great question. You might make it even better by suggesting reasons why you might think it is "illegal". I wonder if this is a violation of the license, for instance, with associated copyright implications? – Patrick87 Aug 3 '17 at 23:56
  • Some subscription-based games allow you to trade in-game items for additional subscription time, and free-to-play games often allow you to purchase in-game items. There's a strong case that in some games this kind of behavior causes the company to lose out on real profits. – David Aug 5 '17 at 5:00
  • There's also the problem of when the game company cracks down on these illegitimate items and removes them from the game- potentially after the hacker has sold them to a patsy for real money. That suggests you could make a case for fraud. forums.maplestory.nexon.net/discussion/14386/… – David Aug 5 '17 at 5:03
  • This is going to depend heavily on which jurisdiction you are in. You should add a jurisdiction to the question. – user Sep 11 '17 at 14:24
  • 1
    Not sure why you opine that "hacking" is used inaccurately because he's "not writing code". Not all hacking involves writing code. One may exploit existing computer flaws without creating "code". There are also, in fact, hardware hacks as well. – Upnorth Sep 12 '17 at 4:15
1

If there is a law which outlaws the behavior and potentially an addition to the state’s penal code defining the punitive measures to be taken when one violates the law, then it could subject one to criminal charges.

Similarly, if the actions taken in this case satisfy the elements of an existing crime, for example, depending on the gamer’s actions and intent, fraud, then this could also be a path to treat this as a criminal manner.

Notwithstanding either of those two possibilities, if someone suffers an injury as a result of the gamer’s actions and is able to properly put forth a cause of action, a civil case may ensue.

From the facts given, one might anticipate a criminal case potentially involving fraud, wire fraud, maybe some other sort of financial crime. Civilly, perhaps one could anticipate breach of contract based on non-compliance with the TOS from the game company and/or a similar claim from those who were doing business with him while not knowing what he was doing.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.