Computer game, software piracy: Data leakage, copy protection lesson

The topic of our latest article from Royal Holloway MSc grads discusses protecting computer games, such as Microsoft's Halo 3, from piracy and the lessons for the rest of industry where data leakage prevention, copy protection and illegal copying of files is concerned.

A popular computer game such as Microsoft's Halo 3 can earn as much as a top box office release in a weekend, but it is estimated that the industry loses more than $1.9 billion to global game and software piracy each year, and it is on the increase.

With most sales occurring within the first six to nine weeks of a game being released, the challenge for the games industry is try to delay the pirates long enough for the bulk of legitimate business to happen. It is a fascinating problem, and one that has lessons for the rest of industry, where data leakage protection and illegal copying of files have become hot topics.

The problem, and the possible solutions, are discussed in an article by Richard Hyams in the latest article of our series based on new MSc theses from students at Royal Holloway University, London.

Hyams works as information security manager for SCI Entertainment, the publishers of such titles as Tomb Raider, Hitman, Championship Manager and Carmageddon.

"I used to be a developer for computer game developer/publisher Eidos, which was taken over in 2005 by SCI. In my career at Eidos I noticed the lack of protection for intellectual property such as game code," he said. "I put together a business case that delaying the ability of a hacker to obtain game code and placing it on a P2P network would probably lead to an increase in sales."

This led to him being appointed to his current role, and being given the budget to go off and do a course in information security. "I chose this course by asking around on security forums and friends highly recommended to do the course at RHUL."

Although his article focuses on the need for copy protection in games industry, he said the challenges and techniques adopted have a broader relevance and application.

"Copy protection for computer games may at first seem to be only interesting for other game developers and possibly music and video publishers," he said, "but in reality it is protecting intellectual property in a potentially hostile environment. If external perimeters such as firewalls become less useful and that data itself should be protected – as in the concept of de-perimeterization as put forward by the Jericho forum -- then digital rights management and copy protection may be a useful technique."

The full article by Richard Hyams and Peter Wild entitled, How Effective is Computer Game Copy Protection? is available online.

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