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BLOG: Some gamers steamed over alleged Valve anti-cheat DNS spying

Ms Smith (Network World) | Feb. 17, 2014
Reddit rumor control alleges that Valve's anti-cheat system checks the domains you visited and sends them back to VAC servers.

Are you a gamer? Got Steam? How steamed might you be then if Valve was spying on your web browsing via the Steam platform's anti-cheat solution known as VAC? A post on Reddit alleges that "VAC now reads all the domains you have visited and sends it back to their servers."

Valve games with VAC anti-cheating system
Click on the image above to enlarge.

If you've ever played with a cheater, someone using speed hacks, aimbots or shooting through walls for example, then it can be pretty annoying. There was allegedly so much cheating in Counter Strike: Global Offensive, fans "begged" Valve to fix the VAC anti-cheatsystem. "Aimbots, walls, no recoil, DoS'ing servers...etc, the abuse cheaters can lay on legitimate players is disgusting," wrote gamer InkofDeath on the Steam users' forum. "Regular players have no immediate action of 'fighting back', and must wait on more long-term solutions while they are abused by cheaters." While it's not for certain that Valve's remedy included a VAC domain-spying update per accusations on Reddit, apparently the ban hammer has been falling more regularly on gaming cheaters.

According to a Counter Strike Global Offensive Reddit thread, VAC:

  • Goes through all your DNS Cache entries (ipconfig /displaydns)
  • Hashes each one with MD5
  • Reports back to VAC Servers

Rumor, Valve VAC checking DNS cache
Click on the image above to enlarge.

Valve is not the only company that uses an anti-cheat system, but it is perhaps one of the most highly regarded companies as countless millions of gamers have Steam. Various Reddit threads discussing the VAC code, range in people alleging that Valve is violating gamers' privacy, to seeing nothing in the code to indicate DNS cache is being sent back to the VAC servers. However, the pitchfork waving may have started on multiplayer gaming cheat sites after an allegedly "huge" VAC ban wave in the game Rust.

Your PC stores recently accessed websites in a Domain Name System (DNS) cache database. To use the "if I'm not cheating then it doesn't matter" argument is about like using the "nothing to hide" argument in a privacy or surveillance debate. If you read about this and someone has linked directly to a site selling cheats, or another similarly blacklisted site, and you click on it, then that website visit would temporarily be stored in your DNS cache. If the allegations are true, then you could be banned even without using cheats yourself.

For that reason, I won't be linking you directly to any site selling gaming cheats in case you are a gamer and then do get banned for visiting that domain. However, a "member of a private hacking site" said the latest VAC update has been bringing down the ban hammer and linked to a post accusing (image) the VAC update of being "more like spyware than an anti-cheat." Ironically, since the person who posted is accused of being a "cheater," then that might not be a "trusted" source. Another alias screaming bloody murder sells cheats, so we will discount those comments as anti-cheating systems that work would directly influence the seller's money flow....but that screaming might also mean VAC is working better now.


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