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How do pirates crack games without access to the source code?

by on December 9, 2013

darknetgizgad‘Most’ DRM schemes used to protect games work by scrambling (encrypting) the actual game code. The program that you run therefore isn’t the game itself merely a stub that performs the following:

  1. Check that this is a genuine game and the user is allowed to run it
  2. Decrypt the actual game program code
  3. Run the actual game

There are many methods crackers use to break the protection but one is similar to the following:

  1. Install a genuine, licensed copy of the game
  2. Run the game allowing it to decrypt itself in memory
  3. Use a software tool to ‘save’ the unencrypted program code from memory to a file
  4. Make the program executable and remove all the software ‘tendrils’ that the DRM leaves behind

No. 4 tends to be the hardest part and can often be a cause of controversy within The Scene. Sometimes cracks will be nuked because they fail to meet the required standard by cracking groups.

Note: There are a few DRM schemes that don’t fall under this umbrella (such as Codemaster’s FADE).

The people who do this do it for the thrill, hacking is pretty fun, and the scene is there because they all have common interests. Games are bought or borrowed but it’s a small expense usually. FTP access comes from someone with money or a job where they are the only IT person.

Getting involved used to be a matter of finding IRC rooms where they hang out and getting known there.  A lot of it is just word of mouth. .nfo’s would sometimes have IRC information in them and would even ask for qualified crackers and couriers. That always seemed suspicious though as these groups are super secretive. Even today if you aren’t a member you really don’t know what’s going on.

There is a massive darknet of couriers, warezgroups and FTP topsites that most people know nothing about.

It’s a way to challenge yourself mentally. It’s puzzle solving with a hint of risk. It’s a way to build a name for yourself and build a fan-base. It fosters community. It’s has a touch of rebellion.

Have some of your war stories to share? Let us know in the comments.