Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Tech Talk: Tournament organisers scam clients with unauthorised money-making software

 This feature can also be found at the South West Londoner, here.

A hidden function in globally used anti-cheating software generated almost $4,000 for an e-sports company, statements revealed this week.

The E-Sports Entertainment Association (ESEA) distributed the program for users who would be competing in tournaments, but within the code was a function that uses computer processing power to earn a digital currency called Bitcoins.

Users noticed that their computers were running slower and electricity bills had increased, complaining on the ESEA website about the issue.

One of the website staff members, known as 'lpkane', issued an initial statement to the queries.
He mentioned that it was an idea between him and another staff member, 'jaguar', to implement the function as an April Fool’s joke.

He said: "Jaguar and I were talking about how cool it would be."

He went on to claim that they had disabled the mining functionality, after testing it on their own accounts for a few days. Then, a server error resulted in the 'joke' program being distributed to clients.

In lpkane's statement, he said that the program had been live for 48 hours and earned around two Bitcoins (roughly $280 at time of writing).

However, a more formal statement made by the ESEA owner, Craig Turnball, put the mining total at $3,713.50, occurring over two weeks since April 13th.

He says that he was aware of the initial testing phase of the mining functions, but gave no instruction to apply it to user accounts.

Mr Turnball said: "We are extremely disappointed and concerned by the unauthorized actions of this unauthorized individual."

The Bitcoin mining function has since been removed from the software and the value of the Bitcoins mined will be donated to the American Cancer Society, along with a donation of the same amount from ESEA themselves.

There has been no mention of whether lpkane or jaguar have been identified as the "unauthorised individual" or if any action is being taken against them.

Some Background on Bitcoins
Established in 2008 by Satoshi Nakamoto, Bitcoins are electronic cash designed to be transferred with no exchange rate between computers, and can be converted into legal tender. Although the currency is used globally, it is commonly compared to US dollars in value.

They are ‘cryptographic’, using a complex coding system for authenticity and to ensure the same Bitcoin isn’t spent twice. Due to their non-corporeal nature, the actual value of Bitcoins tends to fluctuate often.

Although the non-mediated system of Bitcoins allows for trading of goods and services with minimal intervention from banks, there is a lot of criticism about the currency’s stability and legality.
In its early stages, the non-traceable nature of Bitcoins allowed a website, Silk Road, to freely trade drugs and other contraband.

A man under the handle of ‘Killhamster’ runs a Bitcoin satire website, called Buttcoin. The site archives news about the currency and those that use it, highlighting dangerous or strange behaviour.
His documentation of various screen captures from online message boards and Twitter accounts is rather contentious among the Bitcoin community.

To generate Bitcoins, a computer does a series of complex equations, and upon completion, a central server rewards a number of Bitcoins.

Initially, users were awarded with 25 Bitcoins for every block of equations completed. As more Bitcoins enter the economy, the amount rewarded has decreased. The complexity of the equations is designed to be proportionate with the power of the computer.

In some cases the processes can cause damage to the machine, as the calculations can caused increased processor strain, and greatly increase electricity usage. Computers designed for playing video games have better processors than average.

Enthusiasts will create specifically designed machines for Bitcoin mining. Some are professionally built machines costing thousands of dollars; some are jury-rigged setups with multiple graphics cards and cooling fans.

Sloppy builds are a health hazard – in January a house fire broke out in Ottawa, Canada as a Bitcoin miner’s rig short circuited. The fire resulted in $300,000 in damages.

Avalon Asics are the present leaders in producing hardware with the sole purpose of mining. They will only accept Bitcoins as payment for their services.

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