How Half-Life 2 was Stolen

    A few days ago , one of the earliest versions of Half-Life for the press appeared on the network today. The degree of incompleteness of that build can be judged by the fact that the central character in the game is a bespectacled theoretical physicist with a protective suit and a mount that is not known to the whole playing world, but a gnomey bearded man Ivan, a space biker who is opposed to the staff of the research center. 15 years ago, the contents of the disc were intended exclusively for representatives of regular print media.

    But the story of the earliest, so to speak, demo version of the sequel to the game and the way it fell into the hands of gamers remains much more interesting. In order to understand how it all began, let's go back ten years ago.

    Half-Life 2 was just a passing rumor that excited the minds of gamers, but at the E3 exhibition in May 2003, the product demonstration made such a strong impression on the public that the still-unreleased video game received several awards. In Seattle, they talked about the release date in September 2003, and the supposedly non-scripted scenes of the gameplay on E3 made me believe it.

    At the same time, on the other side of the world, in the tiny (a little more than two thousand people) town of Schönau, Germany, lived with his father, 22-year-old Axel Dzhembe, a hacker who was destined to play the main role in this play. The hacking world dragged the gamer by accident - once he downloaded and installed the sdbot virus program, disguised as a Warcraft III key generator, but instead of cleaning the system and forgetting about the trojan, Dzhemba reverse engineering the product and studied the principles of its operation.

    The program was managed through an IRC server, and Axel tracked down its operator. Again, instead of handing it over to law enforcement, Djembe began asking questions about malware. Today he is the owner of a Steam account with games for 2 thousand euros, but at that time he was not so financially independent. Therefore, the novice cracker created his own malware, which steals CD keys in order to gain access to the games that Djembe was eager to play. Over time, his Agobot became one of the most dangerous trojans of that era, mainly due to a competent choice of unclosed Windows vulnerabilities.

    Djembe's criminal activity was fueled not by a desire to make a profit or cause losses, but only by his passion for video games. Among the favorites was Half-Life. Like all her other fans, in 2002, Axel suffered from the absence of any hint of a sequel, which prompted him to think about hacking Valve's corporate network.

    According to the hacker, everything happened by chance - in the process of scanning the network, Djembe discovered that there was a weakness from the inside behind the security: their domain name servers allowed anonymous AXFR requests, thanks to which all subdomains of the name were received.

    In the port scan logs, Axel found a server outside the Valve network, which was not filtered by a firewall, which belonged to Tangis, a company engaged in wearable computer devices. It had the writable root of the site, into which the cracker uploaded ASP scripts. Thus, Djembe gained access to the inside of the corporate network on the first try. Axel unloaded a dump of hashed passwords for users of the system, and thanks to the technical base of the Swiss Higher Technical School of Zurich, passwords were quickly recovered from it.

    Inspecting the environment, Djembe came across documents, design requirements, notes on the creation of the game - exactly what he came for. On the other hand, even weeks later no one suspected the fact of entering Valve, so the hacker became bolder. On one of the machines, he found the source code of a game that he was impatient to play. Due to the performance of the Perforce version control system, unloading did not cause much trouble.

    The game, however, did not start on Axel's computer. He turned off the shaders, which made her much more boring. The cracker recalled that the code had several forks that Djembe began to check in a row.

    Axel assures that he did not upload the code to public access, but only gave one friend boasting for the sake of a little thought of the consequences. A friend promised not to leak, but he did not keep his word. It was impossible to stop distribution after getting bittorrent on the network, and on October 2, 2003 the source of the unfinished game became available to anyone.

    On the same day, Valve CEO Gabe Newell posted on Half-Life 2(now with the headline “I Need Community Help,” where he acknowledged the authenticity of the stolen source code, listed the facts he knew, and asked readers to help him track down the cracker. Gabe already knew that three weeks before that someone had access to his email, and some machines had keyloggers specially written for Valve installed - they were not detected by antiviruses.

    The community of players has reacted ambiguously. At that time, the release of Half-Life 2 was already delayed, and from the leaked material it became obvious that the game would definitely not have been released by the end of 2003. In fact, the leak included cards that were developed at undefined time intervals, but the fact that all the scenes shown on E3 were strictly scripted, although the opposite was stated, caused anger among fans. One way or another, but the community could not help.

    Unpleasant processes took place inside Valve: the mood of the developers after the product leak, a month of work on which cost $ 1 million, fell, and the release of the game was hard to imagine in the foreseeable future. One of the young designers once asked Newell: “Will this kill the company?”

    On February 15, 2004, the hacker contacted Valve and explained the unintended nature of the actions he committed. Dzhembe said that he never wanted to cause such damage, and regretted how events developed. In the second letter, a naive young man who wanted to work for a game developer asked Gabe to employ him in the company.

    Unexpectedly, Newell answered in the affirmative, and offered to conduct an interview by telephone. It is clear that from Djembe they only needed a recognition of the commission of illegal acts recorded on tape - a typical FBI trick based on a sense of pride inherent in any person and especially an attacker in computer security systems. Interview with a hacker was conducted by Alfred Reynolds, the developer of Counter Strike and Steam and future writer of the Portal script Eric Walpo, although the latter doubts Axel's story, because at that time he did not work at Valve yet.

    For forty minutes, the hacker was questioned in detail about the details of hacking, penetration into the network, skills and experience, and Djembe, having lost all guilt in the presence of his idols, told everything. Axel received an invitation to a second interview, this time on American soil, in Seattle, at Valve’s office. However, due to access issues to Valve servers, the FBI decided to take Djembe directly to Germany and not use this trap.

    The morning of May 7, 2004 was not very pleasant for Axel: in his own bed he was woken up by armed people, charged with breaking into the network of an American corporation and causing damage in the amount of over $ 250 million and taken to the police station. From that day, a variety of proceedings began for the young cracker: at first he was suspected of involvement in the Sasser worm, because he, like malware Dzhembe, used the vulnerability of the Windows local security authentication server.

    Then the questions shifted to the hacking network Valve. Axel went into collaboration and honestly and frankly told everything without requiring a lawyer. Djembe recalls that the interrogator's motives aroused only sympathy among the interrogator. The cracker spent two weeks in prison, and only making sure that Axel was not hiding, the police decided to let him go.

    You should not think that the cracker was unlucky: his treatment in the United States could be much stricter. Awaiting trial, Djembe tried to change his life for the better. He completed his professional education and got a job in the field of computer security. Now his job was to set up systems and close "holes", rather than using them for his own purposes.

    Finally, in November 2006, a trial took place that lasted seven hours, but not a single Valve representative was present. The lack of evidence of the publication of the sources spoke in favor of Axel, although recognition of penetration into the corporation's private network was already recorded. The court took into account the hacker's difficult childhood, and the only punishment he received was two years of probation.

    At the time of the trial, 8.6 million copies of the finally released Half-Life 2 had already been sold, breaking all conceivable records. Released on November 16, 2004, the game is the third- largest non-console video game in history. It's hard to say whether this code leak has worsened or improved sales. Today, Valve prefers not to talk about this topic, but to modifications, using stolen sources, is given the status of illegal, and for almost ten years has not been issued a single official statement on the leak.

    Based on materials from the Half-Life Wiki , Pixel Smashers, and Simon Parkin's article . Distribution of stolen beta on .

    Also popular now: