Will Rockstar Hack Delay Grand Theft Auto 6?
Rockstar games was hacked earlier this week, in what some are calling the biggest hack of its kind in recent memory. The game publisher, which is known for popular franchises such as red death and Grand Theft Auto, said it was “extremely disappointed” that the “illegal” hacking episode had taken place. The hacker, who also claims to be the same culprit behind latest Uber hackleaked video of early development footage from the upcoming GTA6.
So far, Rockstar has not said much about the impact it estimates the cyber attack will have on the business.. In its initial statement, the company largely dismissed the prospect of any long-term problems as a result of the breach: “We do not expect any disruption to our live gaming services or any long-term effect on the development of our ongoing projects. Gizmodo reached out to the game publisher for more information and will update our story if they respond.
Video game hacking has become increasingly common in recent years. Just this past week, beta footage from the upcoming Diablo IV our leaked to Reddit. Last summer, EA games suffered a rather disastrous hack that saw the game’s source code leaked all over the web. Lately, hack-and-leaks of games like Cyberpunk 2077 and Half life 2 have led to epic problems for the game publishers behind them. It’s worth asking: what, if any, will the effect be for Rockstar?
A gateway to cheating
One of the biggest concerns right now is whether the cybercriminals behind the attack will publish more data. The hacker claims to have stolen source code for both GTA 5 (published 2013) and GTA6 (rumored 2025 release date), posted selected screenshots of the code to an online forum, and has threatened to release the rest of it. Source code, the digital DNA of a program, is important proprietary information for any gaming company. Hypothetically, what could the release of such code actually do?
Ben Ellinger, vice president of software development at video game design school Digipen, told Gizmodo that it really depends on what kind of code was stolen. If the hacker managed to steal server-side code for GTA6which could potentially open up Rockstar for one cheating problemthe professor speculated.
Understanding this requires some background game architecture. Today’s online multiplayer games is essentially designed to stop players from cheating. The game’s code is divided into two parts: the server-side code (which is run by the remote server farms owned by the company) and client-side code (which runs on the player’s actual device, such as an Xbox or phone). The client code informs the player’s user experience, while the server code controls the gameplay itself. The code is partitioned this way out of necessity (you really can’t create an online multiplayer environment without some sort of cloud infrastructure), but it also helps keep control of the game in the hands of the company: players send their inputs (ie commands) to the server, and the server sends back an updated version of the game that reflects the player’s input.
However, if a hacker gains access to the server-side code, it could allow them to see how the gameplay works, which would eventually allow them to leverage this knowledge to develop new cheats. This may not seem like a big deal, but it can quickly grow into a significant problem, Ellinger said. In this particular case, cheats can really disrupt gameplay, and if the cheats are sold or distributed to a wider subset of players, the scale of the problem can grow exponentially. Do hackers sell cheats online? Of course they do.
Bellinger said another potential negative side effect of a data breach is a shift in a company’s security culture. In the wake of a cyber attack, firms will typically re-evaluate their security procedures in an attempt to avert the next serious incident. However, these reassessments can get a little out of hand, even bordering on paranoia, he said.
“The problem is that it is very difficult to decide whether [the hack] is just a straight-up security hole … or whether it’s human engineering.” By human engineering, Bellinger means that there is “someone on the inside who is either complicit in this [data breach] or is it unintentional – they were manipulated.” Employees are tricked into letting intruders into corporate networks all the time, even when the banal anti-phishing workshops have done the rounds.
Bellinger said a post-hacking culture shift can be disruptive to a company’s workflow, and they don’t always end up being all that helpful either. They “can cause internal disruption to the team because you now go into a state of almost paranoia,” he said, explaining that companies will go through a period of self-examination after something like this happens. “The worst case scenario for that is you lose months due to inefficiency as a result,” he said.
How much does a hack cost?
It’s not entirely clear how much this incident will cost Rockstar. Daniel Wood, an academic researcher who studies the cyber insurance industry, said that if the company had cyber insurance, an insurer might have partially helped with costs, but it is not clear that Rockstar had any.
But even if they did, insurance might not have helped much in a case like this. “Cyber insurance typically does not cover lost intellectual property or damage to reputation, in part because they are difficult to quantify,” Woods said. “It appears that the Rockstar hack mainly damaged IP and reputation,” he said, adding that he doubted “the financial coverage would have helped” in this case.
There are also serious and often disappointing limitations to the kind of protection the cyber insurance industry can provide, Wood said. “Even when cyber insurance does cover something, the policy limit is often exceeded because insurers are not comfortable offering limits in the hundreds of millions (to get this, insurers have to get insurance from a coalition of insurers),” he said.
It will be good, maybe?
Big picture, what’s the damage? If it were a smaller game publisher, Rockstar’s fate would probably be far worse. But for a company that can boast of a regular net income of hundreds of millions of dollars, it can afford to have a little egg on its face once in a while. According to Bellinger, it probably won’t be such a big deal.
“It’s okay,” he said, chuckling. It’s hard to imagine that this will seriously deter the release of the new game, he added. “This is hell Grand Theft Auto. It’s going to go well. People are still going to be impressed as hell [with the game]the [Rockstar] is still going to make billions of dollars. Ninety percent of the people who play it are never going to register that this ever happened, he said.