Entries Tagged "cheating"

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Doping in Professional Sports

The big news in professional bicycle racing is that Floyd Landis may be stripped of his Tour de France title because he tested positive for a banned performance-enhancing drug. Sidestepping the entire issue of whether professional athletes should be allowed to take performance-enhancing drugs, how dangerous those drugs are, and what constitutes a performance-enhancing drug in the first place, I’d like to talk about the security and economic issues surrounding the issue of doping in professional sports.

Drug testing is a security issue. Various sports federations around the world do their best to detect illegal doping, and players do their best to evade the tests. It’s a classic security arms race: improvements in detection technologies lead to improvements in drug detection evasion, which in turn spur the development of better detection capabilities. Right now, it seems that the drugs are winning; in places, these drug tests are described as “intelligence tests”: if you can’t get around them, you don’t deserve to play.

But unlike many security arms races, the detectors have the ability to look into the past. Last year, a laboratory tested Lance Armstrong’s urine and found traces of the banned substance EPO. What’s interesting is that the urine sample tested wasn’t from 2005; it was from 1999. Back then, there weren’t any good tests for EVO in urine. Today there are, and the lab took a frozen urine sample — who knew that labs save urine samples from athletes? — and tested it. He was later cleared — the lab procedures were sloppy — but I don’t think the real ramifications of the episode were ever well understood. Testing can go back in time.

This has two major effects. One, doctors who develop new performance-enhancing drugs may know exactly what sorts of tests the anti-doping laboratories are going to run, and they can test their ability to evade drug detection beforehand. But they cannot know what sorts of tests will be developed in the future, and athletes cannot assume that just because a drug is undetectable today it will remain so years later.

Two, athletes accused of doping based on years-old urine samples have no way of defending themselves. They can’t resubmit to testing; it’s too late. If I were an athlete worried about these accusations, I would deposit my urine “in escrow” on a regular basis to give me some ability to contest an accusation.

The doping arms race will continue because of the incentives. It’s a classic Prisoner’s Dilemma. Consider two competing athletes: Alice and Bob. Both Alice and Bob have to individually decide if they are going to take drugs or not.

Imagine Alice evaluating her two options:

“If Bob doesn’t take any drugs,” she thinks, “then it will be in my best interest to take them. They will give me a performance edge against Bob. I have a better chance of winning.

“Similarly, if Bob takes drugs, it’s also in my interest to agree to take them. At least that way Bob won’t have an advantage over me.

“So even though I have no control over what Bob chooses to do, taking drugs gives me the better outcome, regardless of what his action.”

Unfortunately, Bob goes through exactly the same analysis. As a result, they both take performance-enhancing drugs and neither has the advantage over the other. If they could just trust each other, they could refrain from taking the drugs and maintain the same non-advantage status — without any legal or physical danger. But competing athletes can’t trust each other, and everyone feels he has to dope — and continues to search out newer and more undetectable drugs — in order to compete. And the arms race continues.

Some sports are more vigilant about drug detection than others. European bicycle racing is particularly vigilant; so are the Olympics. American professional sports are far more lenient, often trying to give the appearance of vigilance while still allowing athletes to use performance-enhancing drugs. They know that their fans want to see beefy linebackers, powerful sluggers, and lightning-fast sprinters. So, with a wink and a nod, they only test for the easy stuff.

For example, look at baseball’s current debate on human growth hormone: HGH. They have serious tests, and penalties, for steroid use, but everyone knows that players are now taking HGH because there is no urine test for it. There’s a blood test in development, but it’s still some time away from working. The way to stop HGH use is to take blood tests now and store them for future testing, but the players’ union has refused to allow it and the baseball commissioner isn’t pushing it.

In the end, doping is all about economics. Athletes will continue to dope because the Prisoner’s Dilemma forces them to do so. Sports authorities will either improve their detection capabilities or continue to pretend to do so — depending on their fans and their revenues. And as technology continues to improve, professional athletes will become more like deliberately designed racing cars.

This essay originally appeared on Wired.com.

Posted on August 10, 2006 at 5:18 AMView Comments

Cheating on Tests

“How to Cheat Good.”

Edit > Paste Special > Unformatted Text

This is my Number 1 piece of advice, even if it is numbered eight. When you copy things from the web into Word, ignoring #3 above, don’t just “Edit > Paste” it into your document. When I am reading a document in black, Times New Roman, 12pt, and it suddenly changes to blue, Helvetica, 10pt (yes, really), I’m going to guess that something odd may be going on. This seems to happen in about 1% of student work turned in, and periodically makes me feel like becoming a hermit.

Posted on May 25, 2006 at 12:26 PMView Comments

Sony Secretly Installs Rootkit on Computers

Mark Russinovich discovered a rootkit on his system. After much analysis, he discovered that the rootkit was installed as a part of the DRM software linked with a CD he bought. The package cannot be uninstalled. Even worse, the package actively cloaks itself from process listings and the file system.

At that point I knew conclusively that the rootkit and its associated files were related to the First 4 Internet DRM software Sony ships on its CDs. Not happy having underhanded and sloppily written software on my system I looked for a way to uninstall it. However, I didn’t find any reference to it in the Control Panel’s Add or Remove Programs list, nor did I find any uninstall utility or directions on the CD or on First 4 Internet’s site. I checked the EULA and saw no mention of the fact that I was agreeing to have software put on my system that I couldn’t uninstall. Now I was mad.

Removing the rootkit kills Windows.

Could Sony have violated the the Computer Misuse Act in the UK? If this isn’t clearly in the EULA, they have exceeded their privilege on the customer’s system by installing a rootkit to hide their software.

Certainly Mark has a reasonable lawsuit against Sony in the U.S.

EDITED TO ADD: The Washington Post is covering this story.

Sony lies about their rootkit:

November 2, 2005 – This Service Pack removes the cloaking technology component that has been recently discussed in a number of articles published regarding the XCP Technology used on SONY BMG content protected CDs. This component is not malicious and does not compromise security. However to alleviate any concerns that users may have about the program posing potential security vulnerabilities, this update has been released to enable users to remove this component from their computers.

Their update does not remove the rootkit, it just gets rid of the $sys$ cloaking.

Ed Felton has a great post on the issue:

The update is more than 3.5 megabytes in size, and it appears to contain new versions of almost all the files included in the initial installation of the entire DRM system, as well as creating some new files. In short, they’re not just taking away the rootkit-like function — they’re almost certainly adding things to the system as well. And once again, they’re not disclosing what they’re doing.

No doubt they’ll ask us to just trust them. I wouldn’t. The companies still assert — falsely — that the original rootkit-like software “does not compromise security” and “[t]here should be no concern” about it. So I wouldn’t put much faith in any claim that the new update is harmless. And the companies claim to have developed “new ways of cloaking files on a hard drive”. So I wouldn’t derive much comfort from carefully worded assertions that they have removed “the … component .. that has been discussed”.

And you can use the rootkit to avoid World of Warcraft spyware.

World of Warcraft hackers have confirmed that the hiding capabilities of Sony BMG’s content protection software can make tools made for cheating in the online world impossible to detect.


EDITED TO ADD: F-Secure makes a good point:

A member of our IT security team pointed out quite chilling thought about what might happen if record companies continue adding rootkit based copy protection into their CDs.

In order to hide from the system a rootkit must interface with the OS on very low level and in those areas theres no room for error.

It is hard enough to program something on that level, without having to worry about any other programs trying to do something with same parts of the OS.

Thus if there would be two DRM rootkits on the same system trying to hook same APIs, the results would be highly unpredictable. Or actually, a system crash is quite predictable result in such situation.

EDITED TO ADD: Declan McCullagh has a good essay on the topic. There will be lawsuits.

EDITED TO ADD: The Italian police are getting involved.

EDITED TO ADD: Here’s a Trojan that uses Sony’s rootkit to hide.

EDITED TO ADD: Sony temporarily halts production of CDs protected with this technology.

Posted on November 1, 2005 at 10:17 AMView Comments

Blizzard Entertainment Uses Spyware to Verify EULA Compliance


I recently performed a rather long reversing session on a piece of software written by Blizzard Entertainment, yes — the ones who made Warcraft, and World of Warcraft (which has 4.5 million+ players now, apparently). This software is known as the ‘warden client’ — its written like shellcode in that it’s position independent. It is downloaded on the fly from Blizzard’s servers, and it runs about every 15 seconds. It is one of the most interesting pieces of spyware to date, because it is designed only to verify compliance with a EULA/TOS. Here is what it does, about every 15 seconds, to about 4.5 million people (500,000 of which are logged on at any given time):

The warden dumps all the DLL’s using a ToolHelp API call. It reads information from every DLL loaded in the ‘world of warcraft’ executable process space. No big deal.

The warden then uses the GetWindowTextA function to read the window text in the titlebar of every window. These are windows that are not in the WoW process, but any program running on your computer. Now a Big Deal.

I watched the warden sniff down the email addresses of people I was communicating with on MSN, the URL of several websites that I had open at the time, and the names of all my running programs, including those that were minimized or in the toolbar. These strings can easily contain social security numbers or credit card numbers, for example, if I have Microsoft Excel or Quickbooks open w/ my personal finances at the time.

Once these strings are obtained, they are passed through a hashing function and compared against a list of ‘banning hashes’ — if you match something in their list, I suspect you will get banned. …

Next, warden opens every process running on your computer. … I watched warden open my email program, and even my PGP key manager. Again, I feel this is a fairly severe violation of privacy, but what can you do? It would be very easy to devise a test where the warden clearly reads confidential or personal information without regard.

This behavior places the warden client squarely in the category of spyware. What is interesting about this is that it might be the first use of spyware to verify compliance with a EULA. I cannot imagine that such practices will be legal in the future, but right now in terms of law, this is the wild wild west. You can’t blame Blizz for trying, as well as any other company, but this practice will have to stop if we have any hope of privacy. Agree w/ botting or game cheaters or not, this is a much larger issue called ‘privacy’ and Blizz has no right to be opening my excel or PGP programs, for whatever reason.

EDITED TO ADD: Blizzard responds. See also here. Several commenters say that this is no big deal. I think that a program that does all of this without the knowledge or consent of the user is a big deal. This is a program designed to spy on the user and report back to Blizzard. It’s pretty benign, but the next company who does this may be less so. It definitely counts as spyware.

EDITED TO ADD: This is a great post by EFF on the topic.

EDITED TO ADD: BBC has an article on the topic.

Posted on October 13, 2005 at 2:11 PM

Student Hacks System to Alter Grades

This is an interesting story:

A UCSB student is being charged with four felonies after she allegedly stole the identity of two professors and used the information to change her own and several other students’ grades, police said.

The Universty of California Santa Barbara has a custom program, eGrades, where faculty can submit and alter grades. It’s password protected, of course. But there’s a backup system, so that faculty who forget their password can reset it using their Social Security number and date of birth.

A student worked for an insurance company, and she was able to obtain SSN and DOB for two faculty members. She used that information to reset their passwords and change grades.

Police, university officials and campus computer specialists said Ramirez’s alleged illegal access to the computer grading system was not the result of a deficiency or flaw in the program.

Sounds like a flaw in the program to me. It’s even one I’ve written about: a primary security mechanism that fails to a less-secure secondary mechanism.

Posted on April 1, 2005 at 2:36 PMView Comments

Airport Screeners Cheat to Pass Tests

According to the San Franciso Chronicle:

The private firm in charge of security at San Francisco International Airport cheated to pass tests aimed at ensuring it could stop terrorists from smuggling weapons onto flights, a former employee contends.

All security systems require trusted people: people that must be trusted in order for the security to work. If the trusted people turn out not to be trustworthy, security fails.

Posted on February 24, 2005 at 8:00 AMView Comments

PS2 Cheat Codes Hacked

From Adam Fields weblog:

Some guy tore apart his PS2 controller, connected it to the parallel port on his computer, and wrote a script to press a large number of button combinations. He used it to figure out all of the cheat codes for GTA San Andreas (including some not released by Rockstar, apparently).


This is a great example of a “class break” in systems security — the creation of a tool means that this same technique can be easily used on all games, and game developers can no longer rely (if they did before) on the codes being secret because it’s hard to try them all.

Posted on January 29, 2005 at 8:00 AM

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Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.