The people at the game-hacking site Artificial Aiming can't stand the anti-cheat service Punkbuster. One of their members is going on the offensive today—aggressively.
One junior member says he and his anonymous hacking team are banning innocent Battlefield 3 users—"framing" them, as they put it—to show their disdain for Punkbuster, a service that PC players of the popular first-person shooter are compelled to install when they start the game.
The hackers have narrowed their target to Battlefield 3 users who are playing on servers that are tied into the cheat-detecting service GGC-Stream.
"We are bringing back the unerring of punkbuster back for a 3rd season," Artificial Aiming user anonpbspoofer boasted in a forum post yesterday.
"We have selected ggc-stream as the target since they have the most streaming bf3 servers and makes it very easy to add fake bans. In 2011 we hit them with a mass ban wave and now were are banning real players from battlelog while ggc-stream is totally unaware. We have framed 150+ bf3 players alone."
"So it looks like the hackers/cheaters are unhappy and are now targeting innocent people?," one user wrote on an official Battlefield forum thread entitled "Punkbuster got hacked. We got banned"
"This is...immoral," a Reddit user wrote. "And something NEEDS to be done about it, ASAP."
The Battlefield Twitter hasn't acknowledged a hack but did run a notice about Punkbuster errors a few hours ago: "We are aware of this concern and are looking into it, now. Thanks for being patient."
An EA spokesperson told Kotaku they are looking into the matter. We've not heard back from Punkbuster yet.
Only PC users appear to be affected, as Punkbuster is not integrated to the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions of the game.
The anti-Punkbuster hackers very much want credit for this and want to prove they're doing the bans, so they're posting images. Here's one of a supposedly framed user:
PC shooter players often complain that Punkbuster isn't as good at stopping cheaters as it's supposed to be. If the hackers are right, it's also porous enough to have allowed some mischievous players to slip through it and start banning players who did no wrong.
We'll let you know how this shakes out as we find out more.
Update: Some members of Artificial Aiming may be cheering on the supposed hacked bannings that were announced on their forums by user anonpbspoofer, but AA staffer Doober has posted a note, saying, "This has nothing to do with AA. The person who posted the first link is a junior member here."
Update 2: EA says: "We are aware that some Battlefield 3 players are experiencing connection issues with PunkBuster enabled servers. This problem is limited to a small subset of players on PC and will not impact players on PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360. We are actively looking into the specifics of this issue and we are confident that we will have a permanent solution in place shortly. In the meantime, if a player's connectivity has been affected, we recommend that in the interim they join servers that are not running PunkBuster. There is a filter setting for this in the multiplayer server browser."
Update 3 Tony Ray, founder of Even Balance, the company behind Punkbuster dropped me a line. He said: "This was an attack against a 3rd party admin group that uses PunkBuster to share ban information. The group of hackers/cheaters associated with the attack likes to trump up anything they can to claim some kind of victory to avert attention from the fact that we are catching their paid subscribers and banning them while they are claiming their hacks are undetectable. The 3rd party admin group should be able to easily remove the corrupted streaming from their system if they haven't already.
"It is always unfortunate when innocent players have their gameplay interrupted but it should be sorted out soon. In the mean time, there are plenty of game servers unaffected by this attack. Some players may need to branch out and try servers they don't normally play on for a while."
Update 4: An Artificial Aiming spokesperson has clarified their position on this hack to Kotaku: "I would like to add that ArtificialAiming is not affiliated with this incident. We do support this lulz."
Update 5: GGC has issued a statement in which they say "the problem is not GGC-Stream, but Punkbuster itself and Evenbalance is aware of that for years now"