Today, Electronic Arts confirmed that the hackers stole a massive amount of data from the video game publisher. A dark web forum poster claimed to have obtained 780 gigabytes of data in the attack, including the source code for FIFA 21 and EA’s Frostbite game engine, engine used by FIFA, Madden, Battlefield, Star Wars: Squadrons and Innu.
“We are investigating a recent incident of intrusion into our network where a limited amount of game source code and related tools have been stolen,” EA said in a statement. The representative added that “there is no access to players ‘data, and we have no reason to believe that there is a risk to players’ privacy.” VICE first reported the attack. EA confirmed with WIRING which did not involve ransomware.
Hacker EA is the latest in a string of high profile video game source code filters. Last year, Valve, Capcom, Nintendo and Ubisoft immediately reported similar data breaches. And earlier this year, a ransomware attack went off Cyberpunk 2077 creator CD Project Red. (The developer he said Thursday who has reason to believe that data has made its way onto the Internet.) Source code is an attractive target for hackers because it describes exactly how sausage is made — why push it? this deactivate button that one trap, or exactly where on an opponent’s head your ball must land for optimal damage. When dropped into the wrong hands, the source code has the potential to threaten the integrity of online video games, their servers, and even the security of gamers.
“Hackers are definitely targeting more high-profile games and companies in recent years than they had before,” says OverkillLabs, which used the CrackWatch subreddit focused on game piracy. “Whether it’s for reputation or to show big companies that their security has flaws in it, or just to make money from them.”
While ransomware has been the dominant theme of recent high-profile hackers, the source code of video games is a big money commodity in itself, especially for traitors. Popular tricks are often conceived by injecting pieces of the game’s original source code into another piece of software. Part of why video game companies sue cheat creators is because they use aspects of the game code in their illegal products. (These customs are often cited copyright infringement, or more specifically, using copyrighted code without official permission.)
“When they have access to the source code they can easily see what makes the game work and how they can adapt their tricks to the game,” says OverkillLabs. “If the game had anti-deception, for example, they could easily see a way to use this.”
A member of the game’s escape scene called Ridley says shooter games like EA Battlefield they are popular targets for cheating producers, and therefore, source code hackers. In these games, he says, “Hacks are much more meaningful,” allowing superpowers like self-aiming and the ability to see through walls.
Another use for this source code is modding. Fan-made design and content tools are easier when fans don’t have to invert the game code.
Not all filtered source code is used for evil. Amateur video game historians and preservers crave these schemes for the inner workings of games. Increased control of gaming companies over their products — whether it’s digital-only downloading or forced internet connection — sparks players who view games as cultural products. And many gaming companies don’t have great records that keep their own games alive. “How many times have we seen a game being taken permanently offline because the developer or publisher went under it, or simply considered it unprofitable,” says Jaycie, a gamer who collects source code.