Denuvo Anti-Cheat and the Gaming CommunityApr 2, 2023 | 1 Votes
Two major problems have plagued the gaming industry since home computers, and gaming consoles came into existence: piracy and cheating. While the former has been around since the early days of micro-computers, the latter became a great concern when multiplayer gaming and the internet dominated the scene. In the 1980s, anyone copying code or programs could easily distribute them illegally. Industry pirates started using actual apps that copied the then 5.25" floppy disks, of which "Disk Muncher" was one of the most popular.
As the years went by and the gaming industry exponentially grew, copy protection became a major problem. Publishers started to employ various schemes to protect their games from illegal duplication, and likewise, "crackers" started plying their trade to find means and ways to bypass the existing protections.
By the time the internet and the WWW became available en masse, the problem of piracy started getting out of proportion. The internet offered a free flow of information and the ability to upload and download data and files, providing pirates with a smorgasbord of opportunities to again ply their trade and make their point. This, of course, was trouble for the industry. Again, the publishers reacted by developing every available copy-protection scheme they could master, and likewise, the crackers found means and ways to thwart them. And so the vicious cycle started looping all over again.
With all the years that have passed, the games industry continues to exist, with software piracy hand in hand and a continual battle between the two. In today’s world where game purchases are directly downloaded from the net, publishers continue to employ means and ways to protect their IPs from illegal distribution. The most prevalent scheme is by using encryption keys for both the distribution and the client side to ensure the legality of the download.
This method is called DRM or digital rights management. Once again, the adage that "there is no lock that cannot be broken" has spurred today's generation of crackers to flex their fingers in front of their PCs. Amusing as it is, the moment a new DRM scheme is introduced, sooner or later, there will be a cracked copy of the game online (or on disc) courtesy of your "friendly neighborhood cracker." Regardless, the publishers continue to do what they can to protect their games.
The other really big problem is cheating. To many, cheating isn't really a big issue when a gamer plays by himself. After all, in single-play or solo, one only cheats oneself. However, when cheating occurs in multi-play, it's a different story altogether.
Cheating in LAN or online multiplayer games means shortchanging the other guy or gal. It's unfair, it's unscrupulous, it's immoral, it's dishonorable, and it's Dick Dastardly! (You can hear Muttly laughing in the background). Nobody wants to play with a two-faced cheater, which has resulted in innumerable fights and arguments since Counter-Strike 1.3.
Today’s cheaters, however, are pretty sophisticated, as they use cheating apps and schemes that modify how the game reacts to a player’s input. The usual aimbot and wall hacks of the early Counter-Strike days are a far cry from the cheating mechanisms being used today. Big game developers have responded by protecting online multiplayer titles with anti-cheat protection schemes. It isn't unusual for popular game titles like Valorant, Call of Duty, Fortnite, Overwatch, and Doom Eternal to have an anti-cheat.
Enter Denuvo, a software protection solution that addresses both copy protection and multiplayer cheating problems. Denuvo can be described as a protective layer for a game's DRM protection. Its purpose is to block any modifications to the game code and its protection that would allow the game to be illegally copied (pirated) or give a multiplayer game cheater the ability to make use of game code mods to be able to cheat and thus gain an unfair advantage over the other players. In short, Denuvo is a two-in-one solution to the current-day game IP and cheating protection problem.
Denuvo initially worked very well as it first came out in 2014 with the release of EA's FIFA 15. The game could not be cracked, and Denuvo was discovered to be protecting it. Many developers/publishers joined the Denuvo bandwagon believing it to be the ultimate protection as Denuvo-protected games seemed practically uncrackable. Unfortunately, in the next two succeeding years, the crackers could get past their impregnable fortress, and the walls of Jericho came crashing down! Suddenly, Denuvo-protected games (fully functional) cracked versions started appearing online. Also, users and researchers began to compare the performance of games running without Denuvo and those with it. They observed that the game performed much better without the DRM overlay.
Sadly, developers started removing Denuvo from their new and current releases as it is evident that withstanding public gamer outcry, Denuvo was not that effective anymore. Also, their customers hated it as it interfered with gameplay performance and was highly invasive on the user’s PC as it was a Kernel-based protection scheme. Time and again, Denuvo's developers have assured the public that the protection only runs during gameplay, but the danger with any Kernel-based protection application still exists. IT experts continue to argue on the POLP Principle (Principle of least Privileged), where any entity, human or AI/Code, should be only given the bare minimum access needed to complete their task.
All Kernel-based third-party applications can always influence the PC’s operating system; this is where the danger lies. Sadly, if the protection can be cracked to create cracked copies, and this protection is in the Kernel and can influence the PC OS, then if it can be broken, it can be hacked. The security and privacy of the user become questionable. This may happen, or this may not, but the possibility and likely probability of hacking will always exist, and this is where the controversy originates from. Nevertheless, in all fairness, Denovo does a great job of halting game cheaters in their tracks and stops the cheat mods from ruining an either-wise awesome game. As for the modding community, like in the Steam Workshop, upload your game mods and skins for others to enjoy; that's a different matter.
In closing, the intentions are good, and protecting gamers from cheaters is necessary for the gaming community and eSports to succeed. They are covering the industry from the likes of Capt. Jack Sparrow is a definite need as well. However, protection developers must always prioritize what they set out to do, protecting both the seller and the buyer (even Amazon does that). Protecting the seller alone is not enough if it means the possibility of exposing the buyer or user to a possible or probable risk. In the spirit of fairness, public users have the right to express their concerns and choose the actions they wish to take regarding their own decisions.