Gaming and Account Security (repost)

Posted by on Aug 29, 2012 in Blog, Guildwars 2, News | 1 comment

(Edit: This was originally posted in February as a contribution to the gamer safety week. The recent Guildwars 2 release and the hacking attempts there made me add a few remarks at the bottom of the post.)

We all have heard of hacked gaming accounts, robbed guild banks and stripped or even deleted characters. Gaming account management websites have been attacked in order to extract Credit Card Information. Many of us have been locked  out for weeks from the Playstation network or the SOE servers. And last but not least, fansites of all sizes are being attacked in order to gain account names, email addresses and passwords.

A group of online gaming companies has now come together under the Merchant Risk Council’s (MRC) Gamer Safety Alliance and declared this week as Gamer Safety Week. Members include Electronic Arts, En Masse Entertainment, Microsoft, MindCandy, NCsoft West, Nexon America, Sony Online Entertainment, Square Enix, and Turbine. The purpose of Gamer Safety week is to provide gaming fans and customers with safety information and resources and raise awareness about account security.

Why are online games being attacked? Like all websites doing business on the Internet, online gaming companies process payments this way. The attackers are after payment and credit card information. A thread more specific to online games is the ability to steal in-game currency (gold, platinum, credits) or other valuables, which in turn can be sold to the gamers for cash. And a more general thread exists through vandalism, security advocacy or political activism. I haven’t heard of religious groups hacking online games and their websites, but the motivation is there.

What to do as a user: Overcome your complacency and challenge your lazy self. Again, it’s fairly standard that security is traded for simplicity and ease-of-use. Simplicity can be used to the advantage of attackers. It is effort to come up with new user names and passwords for every website and every game. But if you don’t do it, somebody who gains access to your Turbine information will also be able to access your Sony games. Or worse, somebody who gains access to some small blog you created an account to leave a comment 7 years back will have access to your WOW gold.

Be aware of websites with poor security. For instance, websites that store your password as clear text are vulnerable to hacking attempts. The better ones encrypt the password, then store it and compare the encrypted input at login time against it. This website, MMOCompendium.com stores its passwords encrypted, but sends out initial passwords as clear text. You should be changing them right after you created your account. Another weak spot is the way forgotten passwords are handled: I don’t know your 17 character password, but know the name of your first pet. A website should send you an email with reset information to your registered email address, instead of giving you access right away.

Added security comes from using key fobs or security key apps for your smart phone. Use them whenever they are offered by your game of choice. Those key fobs produce a 6 digit number once a minute and it’s close to impossible to guess that number. An attackers only way to circumvent the system are men-in-the-middle attacks, which intercept your input, disconnect you and use your code on their system. This type of attack is unreliable, since it leaves only a small window (<< 1 min) to succeed. The other option for the attacker is to hack into the fob producers systems and steal seed codes and algorithms.

And lastly, to enable you to manage your passwords better, and therefore make it easier for you to use many different passwords, use a password manager tool. Password Safe has been around for a while and offers good protection. But there are also tools that allow you a more automated approach like LastPass. That’s the one I am using. It keeps track of all login prompts you discover while surfing the web. It remembers the logins and passwords you are using, or better, creates hard to guess passwords for you. Next time you visit the site, it either fills the account information in automatically, or asks you to confirm before it does so. It can also cut and paste account and password information to allow you using them outside of web browsers, like your game login screen.

In the end, information security is an arms race. Compare the value of having access to the data against the effort that is needed to gain access. As long as you can keep it more expensive to hack into your system than the potential gain, you’ll win. And all security efforts come down to this, making it more expensive to gain access.

August, 2012 edit: By now most of us have seen email notifications where others try to reset your password. They can do that if they know your email address. It’s not the best choice to use an email address as account name, especially if the account manages valuable information like your bank account or your gaming account. Some relief can come from using different email accounts or plussed email addresses, which are supported by some email providers. For instance gmail allows this: email sent to [email protected], [email protected] and [email protected] are all sent to the same address, [email protected] Not all places accept email addresses containing a “+”, but GW2 does.


© Disclaimer: Guildwars 2
© 2011 ArenaNet, Inc. All rights reserved. NCsoft, the interlocking NC logo, ArenaNet, Arena.net, Guild Wars, Guild Wars Factions, Factions, Guild Wars Nightfall, Nightfall, Guild Wars: Eye of the North, Eye of the North, Guild Wars 2, and all associated logos and designs are trademarks or registered trademarks of NCsoft Corporation. All other trademarks are the property of their respective owners.


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A Gameplan

Posted by on Aug 16, 2012 in Guildwars 2, The Secret World, Vanguard, World of Warcraft | 1 comment

Civil War Strategy 4 by Avinash KunnathIt seems to me everybody needs a gameplan for the months of August and September. I am looking at all the options the game starved player will have in the next couple of weeks. Guildwars 2 is due roughly in a week, World of Warcraft will publish their 5.0.4 patch at exactly the same date and Vanguard went free to play this week. Of course there’s my current favorite game “The Secret World”. Aside from that, I am also working on getting my business as a website and blog designer going, which indeed takes the majority of my time. I also have a one week trip to Rhode Island coming this weekend.

Civil War Strategy 2 by Avinash Junnath/With me working hard, I don’t have that much energy left to play. I’ve played in the earliest GW2 beta weekends, but skipped the last one and the recent stress test. There was the fear of spoiling my fun, but also dwindling interest. It looks like I am not the only one with this dilemma.

Ever since it became obvious that Vanguard was bleeding subscribers, the majority of us have waited for it to go free-to-play. Now it’s here and I feel no desire to play. Obviously the same reason applies here as well. So many things to do, so little time.

Civil War Strategy by  Avinash KunnathWhich leaves the Pandas. I unsubscribed about 5 months ago, planning to return when MoP goes live. I’ve pre-ordered my wive’s copy of the game, but had no desire to order one for me. (A couple of weeks back she expressed some interest in Guildwars 2, but all offers from my side to let her play in a beta weekend were rejected.) Thus, this will remain a divided house when it comes to gaming. However, I am still fully involved in WOW when I hear the occasional blow by blow account of her raids or other exploits.

And there we have it, my gameplan:

  1. Form a strong, stone wall type defensive game of website, blog and plugin development. No prisoners.
  2. Once the defenses are secured, liberate yourself with an easy passing game full of riddles and puzzles. Show your opponents the secret world. Add some running plays to mix it up a little.
  3. If things get boring or the front lines are dug in deep, try to open things up with a reverse run by Guildwars 2. Don’t hesitate to use the tight end.
  4. WoW and Vanguard remain benched until somebody gets hurt or once couple of weeks have passed.

Now that I think of it, the football season starts in three weeks, which could slow me down, too. — Not really. I am German and I have no idea what I am talking about when it comes to football. The above gameplan is complete fantasy and I apologize to all true fans of the game.

In case you haven’t seen my company’s logo, or aren’t subscribed to Scarybooster’s Scary Worlds. Here it is one more time:

Websites, Blogs, Plugin Development

 

I got those nice football strategies through flickr from Avinash Kunnath. Find the originals here, here and here.


© Disclaimer: Guildwars 2
© 2011 ArenaNet, Inc. All rights reserved. NCsoft, the interlocking NC logo, ArenaNet, Arena.net, Guild Wars, Guild Wars Factions, Factions, Guild Wars Nightfall, Nightfall, Guild Wars: Eye of the North, Eye of the North, Guild Wars 2, and all associated logos and designs are trademarks or registered trademarks of NCsoft Corporation. All other trademarks are the property of their respective owners.

© Disclaimer: The Secret World
"The Secret World" is a registered trademark of Funcom GmbH. All logos, images and names are intellectual properties of Funcom GmBH unless otherwise noted. This site is not endorsed by or affiliated with Funcom GmbH.

© Disclaimer: Vanguard
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I Can’t Keep Up With The Secret World

Posted by on Aug 15, 2012 in Blog, The Secret World | 3 comments

Oh boy, I am such a slowpoke. Always trying to take it in to the fullest. And then I get dragged elsewhere to do it again. Let me admit it freely: I am on my third character in The Secret World. I started out with a Dragon, but got myself frustrated when I stepped seriously under powered into the Blue Mountains. So I tried an Illuminati while also working toward a new ranged spec. That got me even into the desert, but I skipped some content in the Blue Mountains. And then comes the free trial weekend and increased activity among my blogger friends Kadomi, Belghast, Syl and Shadowspawned. Not to mention Rowan who tells us to never reroll our characters. I even told Kadomi not to reroll (if she likes her faction). Trouble was, the majority of their guild was Templars. Well, this forced me to roll a Templar. Now I am at the Innsmouth Academy for the third time around. But this time Carter will talk to me.

The other reason I can’t keep up is this:
The Secret World Newsletter #15

Funcom announced the next content patch for the end of August with more missions, the introduction of the auxiliary weapon slot using a handy rocket launcher, a plastic surgeon and a hair and makeup stylist. Follow the link to the newsletter for TSW Issue 2. I’ve barely scratched the new content from Issue #1, how can I expect to stay on top of all this if it comes out this fast.

Plus, there will be another free weekend starting August, 15th. Funcom published their quarterly reports recently and had to tell their investors that results had come in below expectations. In my opinion it’s a case of to high expectations. They’ve made a wonderful and intelligent game, but it is a niche game, considering the difficulty levels at times. The good thing is, they act on it by introducing the trial weekends. And I for one can tell you that they are successful doing so. You’ve seen I’ve posted 5 spoiler quest guides (can’t keep up with those, either). Those quest guides have increased my visitor numbers significantly, but fell off as soon as the majority of players moved away from Kingsmouth. During the free trial, that number climbed to about 45% of the peek and is now one week after the trial at 3 times the number of visitors just before the trial.

Since there have been so many positive reviews from the trial weekend, I expect a pretty solid number of participants and subsequently, a good number of new subscribers. Of course they set the trial weekend just before the GW2 rollout, otherwise, they’d probably have to wait for 3-6 more weeks. It’s business after all. And they seem to have business sense. Nothing wrong with that.


© Disclaimer: The Secret World
"The Secret World" is a registered trademark of Funcom GmbH. All logos, images and names are intellectual properties of Funcom GmBH unless otherwise noted. This site is not endorsed by or affiliated with Funcom GmbH.


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Free-to-play or how to Spread Around $15 per Month

Posted by on Aug 8, 2012 in Blog, Rift, SOE, Star Wars: The Old Republic, World of Warcraft | 4 comments

How to split moneySo we are talking again about the free-to-play model, after SWTOR has announced they’ll be using it soon for their game. Syp started this with a simple list of various free-to-play models and others have thrown in their opinions. Ocho elaborates a bit more on the various pay models and Sente looks into the cost side of the business.

Guess I’ll throw my opinion in as well. If I look at my own gaming habit I see a couple of things, and I can assume being the average Joe, that many other games will do exactly as I do. I more or less have a gaming budget, as I have already dissected a while back. So does everybody else. That’s the MMO market, the sum of the budgets of all players.

Back in the days of Everquest and Ultima Online, that market was small, since so many people

  • didn’t know about MMOs
  • didn’t have the hardware
  • didn’t have friends who played
  • just found the game to hard.

Along comes Blizzard and blows up the market size from a wild guess of 1 million players for EQ and others to 13 million at its peak, say 15 million to add in the other games, hell make it 18 million. They were able to do this because they pulled in the player base from other Blizzard games and at some point it started to snowballed.

It’s different nowadays. Remember, each player has his budget. And there aren’t that many people left who don’t know about MMOs. There are probably only hardcore MMO deniers left. Each new game, in order to gain traction has to chip away from other games’ player base, or has to find a way to bring in their own fans. But that gets them usually only 1-2 million subscribers like Rift’s and SWTOR’s numbers show. SWTOR actually pulled in the Bioware fans, many of them solo offline gamers, while Rift probably had to steal their subscribers elsewhere.

So what’s a smart company to do if it’s so hard to get new people to put down $15 each month and other players hand their money to Blizzard or Sony? Answer: what every business man does, they ask for less. I think there was a company who actually had $9.95 subscription rates. But that didn’t fly. And even smaller rates won’t work to well, because the cost of handling those transactions eat up the money.

And that’s why the folks running the business end of the MMO’s had to come up with a way get their share of the market. Instead of having somebody play 30 days for $15, they end up with somebody playing 10 days and paying $6 (see what I did here?). The players love it, since they have so many games to pick from. By the way, that’s what it looks like from the players point of view: So many games, so little time. And many want to play them all.

In the end all those free-to-play models are business vehicles to be able to offer smaller pieces of the market to the buyers. Sony’s 3 day pass comes to mind. With F2P you get somebody to pay $20 for in game currency now and recharge 4 month later. However, one reality seems to be that many players have a main game where they are subscribed to, and many others were they drop by every now and then, leaving traces of money behind.

Makes you wonder if F2P is the right way to divide that market into more equal pieces. Plus, the $15 a month Blizzards have to let them chip away.

 

Photo by: Images_of_Money


© Disclaimer: Rift
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This site is not endorsed by or affiliated with LucasArts, BioWare, or Electronic Arts.
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Swimming with the Sharks

Posted by on Aug 6, 2012 in Blog | 0 comments

Shark at Kronos Reef by USFWSThis is going to be technical. Consider skipping to the last paragraph.

Ever since I got some more traffic on my blog and especially after I started publishing quest spoilers for “The Secret World”, my webhost has slowed down. It took often 8 seconds or more until the page was finished loading. I dropped a few plugins, reviewed what caching I was using, asked a few friends what else I could do and eventually found Cloudflare. Cloudflare is a service that caches your website across the world and therefore is able to deliver faster. It also has some additional security features and can take off a good amount of overall load. Happiness all over.

Well, not so much, it took still 4 seconds until everything is loaded. By then I had learned that Google doesn’t like slow websites and ranks them lower. In parallel I had been working on a small business website for a friend of mine, who had it created using “Weebly” and wanted some more options. Not much of a problem, until I installed it using WordPress on his web host (iPage). It took 4 seconds before it even started to download a page. Which made me look closer.

The download speed of a webpage consists of 2 distinct phases. Response time and the actual download. You can divide this even further, but we don’t want to go overboard. What I had experienced so far was the time needed to download text and data, and probably some processing, DNS lookups, pulling icons from other websites etc, etc. Caching can improve the download time a lot, since it generally brings the data closer to the user. But response time is difficult. It’s the time it takes from the user clicking on a link or typing in the webpage until the first bytes arrive. That time is spent by loading WordPress, MySQL or blogger and having them try to figure out what you want from them until they know how to answer.

  • For my server at Westhost, it took somewhere between 1.4 and 1.8 seconds.
  • iPage needed 4 seconds for a WordPress site, and .4 seconds for a “Weebly” site.
  • Bluehost, where http://www.scaryworlds.com/ is hosted, took .8 seconds
  • Safesharkhosting run by “vitamachinae”, who’s well known in the MMO blogosphere took between .4 and .6 seconds for a WordPress blog.

Welcome to the last paragraph. In the end, it’s been an easy decision to move to Safe Shark Hosting. The price is competitive, Westhost is actually the most expensive option and iPage the cheapest. There are some additional perks like WP, theme and plugin update service. Now lets find out how it works out long term. Mind you, I don’t want to trash the other hosting companies. IPage does good things at the right price for their user profile. I am just not in that profile anymore. Westhost’s service is outstanding and Bluehost is well known and respected as a shared hosting service.



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Battlechicken’s Challenge: I am a Collector. NOT !

Posted by on Aug 4, 2012 in Blog, Everquest, Everquest II, World of Warcraft | 2 comments

Battlechicken’s been challenging her fellow bloggers for a while now with a monthly request to post about an issue suggested by her. This month it’s “I am a Collector”. That’s a subject I can contribute to, because I am not a collector. I am just not that well organized, not at all.

You see, in real life, I just can’t divide a stack of things into different piles of about equal size by classifying them. I usually end up with something like 5 piles, two with 45% of the items each and three with 5%, 3% and 2% of the items. Which in the grand scheme of things leads to a big box of  goods that resist classification. Let me correct this right here: My piles are more likely distributed  80%, 15%, 3%, 1%, 1%.

Since I can’t sort items, I end up throwing them away or selling them. In real life not as much, since selling is often cumbersome, but in an MMO there’s an auction house and there are vendors ready to take your junk. Of course, a little discretion is needed, otherwise you end up in the debtors tower of WOW.

Here’s how I deal with various in game goods:

Harvested Materials and Tradeskill Items

I keep those around either in my bags or in the bank as long as they are usable by my current tradeskill level. The same is true for intermediary products like copper bolts and pipes used in WOW engineering. As soon as I have no immediate use for these goods, I sell them on the auction house. If I need them again for some reason one week later, I just buy them again. I even sell the rare harvesting materials, since in the end, they aren’t really that rare. They usually are on sale in the auction house.

Tradeable Gear

Here’s a lesson I learned a long time ago in Everquest. The Luclin expansion had just gone live and one mob in the Netherbian lair dropped a breastplate called “Netherbian Chitin”. Great item to outfit your characters as well as twinks. I sold the first one I got. For something like 1000 platinum. At the end of the first week the price had dropped to 200p, because the mob was farmed like mad. Lesson learned: sell it while it’s hot.

Thus, I sell tradeable gear, as long as I, an alt of mine or some of my friends can’t use it immediately. I won’t keep an item if an alt of mine can use it 20 levels from now. I usually don’t know when the alt will gain those levels and expect him to be able to buy that gear or get it through quests or loots it himself. I expect to buy the same gear cheaper 4 weeks from now than I can sell it today. Mudflation counteracts the price drops somewhat, but I figure by the time I’ll notice mudflation effects, I’ll have benefited from it as well and will have more money in my pockets. In short, I’d rather have 10 gold pieces today than 15g in 6 weeks.

Nostalgia Items

I keep a few of those around, like a pair of rolling pins from the Deadmines or a brass cannon from Stratholme. I keep a couple of pimp hats on my EQ 2 characters, even though I find them to tacky to actually wear them. There are also a couple of clickable items who have outlived their usefulness, but it’s hard to say goodbye to them.

Transmog and Visual Slot Items

I’ve never gotten into transmogging or into dressing up my characters like it is possible in other games. Which makes me relatively unencumbered in that regard. But even if I did, there’s a good chance I’d apply them same rules as above. Sell it while it’s hot.

Why’s my Bank Full Anyway?

Because most of us are lazy. I usually have a selloff fit when I start having to destroy things to have bag space. And I mean bag space, not bank space. Thus, as long as I carry it, I collect.


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