Bitcoin Mythbusting

bitcoins

 

I’ve recently become extremely interested in and involved with bitcoins, and the more I research the topic the more misinformation I see. There seems to be a lot of confusion over what bitcoins are, how they’re used, and even whether or not they’re legal. I decided to put together a list of common myths about bitcoins, and debunk those that deserve debunking, and validate the ones that got it right. I will continually update this post with new myths, so feel free to send me an email or leave a comment with a bitcoin myth you’d like me to address.

Myth: Bitcoins are only used to buy drugs.  BUSTED

silkroad

 

While it is totally possible to buy drugs at sites like Silk Road and Atlantis (yes, they do exist. No, I won’t tell you how to find them) it’s not the only way to use bitcoins.

You can actually buy just about anything you might need with bitcoins. Bitcoinstore carries all sorts of stuff though it seems like their main focus is on electronics. You might even save a few bucks coins by shopping with them instead of going to the store, or shopping on Amazon.

If you’d prefer to shop at Amazon, or some other store, Gyft has you covered. They’ll let you spend your BTC on gift cards from just about any retailer you’d like. You can then spend those gift cards as you see fit!

If you’d rather skip the gift card middleman and just spend your coins on your favorite shopping site, you’re in luck. Bitspend lets you spend your bitcoins on just about anything on just about any online store. You point them to the product you want, they send you an invoice for it with the price converted to bitcoins, you pay, and they place the order on your behalf.

It’s also wroth noting that a lot of smaller stores, bars, coffee shops, and freelancers (like me) have started accepting bitcoins. Essentially it’s the same as paying in cash, except instead of paper bills and metal coins you’re just trading digital money for goods or services. If you’re not sure whether someone takes BTC just ask!

Myth: Bitcoins have no real value. BUSTED

bitcoin value

 

Right now, a bitcoin is worth approximately $120 USD depending on which bitcoin exchange you look at. But where does that value actually come from?

When bitcoin was first launched there were no stores that accepted them, no services that converted them to traditional currencies, and no one who wanted to be paid with BTC. The only value bitcoins had came from their nature. The idea of an anonymous internet-based currency that essentially acted as digital cash appealed to early adopters.

Those early adopters brought bitcoins into the realm of legitimacy through what I’ve come to refer to as the Tinkerbell effect. Those early adopters made so much noise about bitcoins that other people started to pay attention. Essentially, bitcoin advocates clapped their hands so hard that the fledgling currency was able to start expanding.

The first recorded purchase made with bitcoins was a pizza. On May 21st 2010 an intrepid bitcoin advocate successfully purchased $25 worth of pizza for 10,000 bitcoins. Today, that pizza would be worth approximately $1,218,000 USD based on the current market value of a bitcoin.

It was slow going for a while, but eventually, the anonymous nature of bitcoins combined with the low cost attached to transacting in bitcoins drew in more and more people and businesses. As I mentioned before, you can now buy just about anything you like with bitcoins, and it’s all thanks to the early adopters.

Myth:  Bitcoins are illegal in the US. BUSTED

crime scene

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve seen a lot of sensationalized articles about how the government is cracking down on bitcoins. I’ve seen headlines proclaiming bitcoin to be dead, and describing the government crackdown on bitcoin-based businesses.

The outlets publishing these stories have taken a tiny kernel of truth and warped it for the sake of driving traffic to their sites. FinCEN, the government agency responsible for regulating financial crimes has clearly stated that bitcoins and other digital currencies are not officially acknowledged as currencies, but companies exchanging BTC for USD do need to register as money service businesses.

Recently, Mt Gox, the most popular bitcoin exchange, had their Dwolla account frozen, and some of their funds seized by the DHS. Contrary to popular belief, this wasn’t because the government hates bitcoins, it was actually because Mt Gox neglected to correctly register one of their bank accounts in order to comply with the FinCEN regulations.

There was also some concern that the government might start coming after bitcoins when they went after Liberty Reserve. That’s not actually a valid fear – Liberty Reserve was shuttered for money laundering.

I’m covering huge topics in a small way here. If you’re interested in learning more about these stories, I strongly suggest you dig deeper on your own. If you’re not interested in digging deeper, suffice it to say that if you don’t break the law with your bitcoins no government agency is going to come after you just for having them.

Myth: Bitcoins can be stolen from you. CONFIRMED

pickpocketing

 

Bitcoins are stored in digital bitcoin wallets, and just like a real wallet, your bitcoin wallet can be taken from you if you’re not careful. As I mentioned before, bitcoins are anonymous, so once that wallet’s gone, it’s gone for good. Fortunately, there are some steps you can take to keep your money safe.

First and foremost, take basic precautions to keep intruders out of your computer. That means you should be running an antivirus program, you should have a firewall set up and correctly configured, and you should run antivirus and antimalware scans on your computer regularly. In fact, I don’t care if you don’t have any bitcoins on your computer, you should still be doing those things.

Once you’ve got your wallet installed and set up the next thing you should do is encrypt it. Every piece of wallet software allows you to password protect your wallet, and you absolutely need to do that. In fact, you should be extra careful when choosing your password for your wallet; don’t use a password you have used anywhere else, and don’t use a short password. I’d recommend either using a password comprised of random numbers and letters that is over twenty characters long, or a passphrase consisting of no less than ten words, some of which should have numbers substituted for letters where applicable (put a 3 where an E ought to be, or maybe a 7 where a T ought to be). If someone does get access to your bitcoin wallet this will help to keep them from getting at the money in it.

If you plan to store a large number of bitcoins for any extended period of time you’ll want to create a paper wallet. A bitcoin wallet consists of two keys: a private key and a public key. The public key allows the wallet to receive bitcoins while the private key allows the wallet to send those coins and manage the wallet. Creating a paper wallet ensures that the private key never actually touches the internet, and as such, it’s impossible for a hacker to gain access to it. You can find a solid tutorial on creating a paper wallet here.

Myth: Bitcoin mining isn’t worth getting into. PLAUSIBLE

bitcoin mining

 

For those not in the know, bitcoin mining is the process of using a computer or other piece of mining hardware to do the math necessary to verify bitcoin transactions. The end result is that new bitcoins are generated, and you get some of them in exchange for your efforts. That’s an ultra-simplified description; if you want to know more, read this.

New bitcoins are currently generated at a steady rate of 25 BTC every ten minutes. In order to keep the ten minute interval steady the difficulty of mining bitcoins goes up as new miners come online. Currently, it’s possible to turn a profit mining bitcoins using miners made up of little more than a milk crate, a motherboard, a power supply, and several ATI graphics cards.

New ASIC mining hardware is now hitting the market, and that hardware mines DRASTICALLY faster than GPU’s are able to. As more of these speedy miners come online the difficulty of mining continues to rise, and eventually, it just won’t be profitable to run a GPU-based mining rig.

If you have the money to invest in ASIC hardware, and if you have the tenacity to keep up with current mining trends, then sure, you could potentially make some money mining bitcoins. There are a few factors to keep in mind before diving in.

First, you’ll want to keep an eye on both the current difficulty of mining bitcoins and the current value of a bitcoin. This calculator keeps track of both of those things, and it even lets you enter the hashrate of your mining hardware to see how many bitcoins you’ll earn in a day, a week, and a month.

With that calculator handy, head over to Minr and see who is currently offering ASIC hardware for sale. Find one that’s in your price range and find out how long it will be before the miner you want ships out. If the miner you’re looking at is up for preorder, make sure you’ll be able to cancel that order if you decide to do so.

With all of that info in hand, you are now prepared to determine whether or not mining is worth it for you. Just keep an eye on both the difficulty and the price of a bitcoin as they relate to the miner you want to purchase (or in most cases the miner you have preordered). If you see those numbers hit a point where your miner wouldn’t be profitable, then don’t buy it / cancel that preorder.

Send in more myths!

I intend to add to this post as time goes on (or maybe start a second post full of myths) so please, feel free to contact me with myths you’d like to see me tackle. You can shoot me an email or leave your suggestion in the comments.

On Video Games, Violence, and the Role of the Press

malloy_bio_pic

The US Conference of Mayors held a meeting this weekend during which Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy had some things to say about violent video games. Actually, he had quite a few things to say on the topic, but one quote in particular stuck with me:

“the day that Newtown happened, there were games available that actually allowed people to go into a school in the game and shoot ’em up.”

Malloy is almost certainly referring to Kindergarten Killers, a flash game the NRA cited as evidence that the video game industry was having a negative impact on our society. The NRA failed to mention that Kindergarten Killers is a ten year old flash game created by one person, and it was never picked up by a publisher. Unfortunately, when reporting on Governor Malloy’s quotes, most outlets also failed to mention that fact.

Over the past couple of days I’ve seen a lot of outlets (both gaming outlets and non-gaming outlets) covering this story, but only a handful have provided any context for that quote.

Try to put yourself in the shoes of an uninformed parent reading that quote. This hypothetical reader might begin to form a negative opinion on video games – after all, this is a state governor making these statements, and that position carries a certain level of credibility in the eyes of most Americans.

By neglecting to provide any contextual information about a video game that “allowed people to go into a school in the game and shoot ‘em up.” the press has helped to shape the public’s opinion of video games through omission.

By choosing not to delve into the back story behind that quote, any outlet reporting on it is leaving the reader to formulate an opinion without the whole story. Someone not in touch with the gaming industry would likely assume that the game Governor Malloy is referring to could be sitting on store shelves next to the latest Call of Duty.

Kindergarten Killers is a vile example of what video games can be. It has no artistic merit, and the subject matter is straight up obscene. However, since it’s a ten year old flash game made by one person, citing  it as evidence that the video game industry is having negative effects on society is akin to citing a home movie found on Youtube as evidence that the film industry is having a negative impact on society.

This game should hold no bearing on the current discussion on violence in video games, but by allowing the misguided impression that the game is part of the video game industry to persist, the press is helping to shape a negative opinion on gaming held by a lot of people.

I’m not writing any of this to call out any specific members of the press. There are many reasons why a writer might not include information about Kindergarten Killers in a story about Malloy’s quotes. First and foremost, it is (strictly speaking) conjecture to assume that he was referring to Kindergarten Killers. I’m hard pressed to come up with another game he could have been referring to, but the fact remains that I can’t say FOR SURE that he was referring to Kindergarten Killers, and as such, mentioning it might be against editorial policy at some outlets.

On top of that, many writers covering video games write to their audience – that is to say, they write assuming the reader already has a certain level of knowledge on the gaming industry, which might keep them from delving too deep into info about Kindergarten Killers that they’re assuming the reader already knows.

Whatever the reason for various outlets neglecting to contextualize Governor Malloy’s quotes, their work is still helping to shape public opinion on this topic. Video games are going to be scrutinized in the coming months and years, and that makes it especially important to present the public with ALL of the information they need to make an informed decision on the topic.

So I’m putting out a call to all members of the press (both gaming press and non-gaming press) to report on this topic responsibly. If editorial policy at your outlet prevents you from getting sidetracked in an article about Governor Malloy’s quotes, at least link out to another article that explains Kindergarten Killers.

I’d also like to see the press handle this issue and issues like it better in general. If you’re reporting on something said or done by a small organization opposed to violent video games, make mention of the organization’s size. Your readers trust you, and if you’re reporting on it, they’ll assume it’s large enough to merit attention. Don’t betray that trust by omitting details that provide needed context for the situation.

If you’re reporting on something said by a government official, take the time to do some research on them and their core values. Do they take campaign contributions from the NRA? If so, that’s something the reader needs to know. That information provides the reader with valuable information on the process that government official is using to make their decisions and formulate their opinions.

If you can’t work any of that into the article you’re writing take the time to sit down and write a second article that contextualizes the first. If your editor won’t approve it, put that second article on your personal blog. Your readers trust you; don’t betray that trust.

 

Restrictive DRM Makes Buying Games Unappealing

On Tuesday February 7th Ubisoft plans to start some work on their servers. As you could probably imagine, that’s going to leave the online multiplayer component of most of their games unusable until the work is done. Unfortunately, for PC gamers the single player component of some of these games will be down as well.

PC gamers will completely lose access to Tom Clancy’s HAWX 2, Might and Magic: Heroes 6, and The Settlers 7. Mac gamers will completely lose access to Assassin’s Creed, Splinter Cell Conviction, and The Settlers. When I say “completely lose access” I mean the games won’t even work in single player mode. That’s right, if you bought any of these games on the PC you won’t be able to use them until Ubisoft is done working on their servers, and they haven’t announced exactly how long that will be. All of these games include Ubisoft’s always-on DRM and once the servers go down, that DRM won’t be able to check in to verify your game, and if it can’t verify your game the DRM will lock you out of it.

Before I go any further into this story, let me stop for a second and say that I understand why publishers and developers feel the need to add DRM into a game. A lot, and I mean A LOT of time, money, and effort go into producing a video game, and from the perspective of the publisher and developers the concept of losing sales to piracy is frightening. There’s no way to stop piracy completely, but if DRM helps to curb it, then there’s an incentive for the devs and publishers to include it.

While I understand Ubisoft’s point of view here, they’re going about it the wrong way. DRM hasn’t stopped people from pirating their games, but it has made things difficult for their paying customers.

I bought a copy of Might and Magic: Heroes 6 a couple of months back, and I’ve had frequent problems with it. Sometimes I fire it up, and everything goes just fine, other times I fire it up and the Conflux servers are down so I can’t get into the game I had been playing the last time I logged on. Sure, there’s an “offline mode” but a lot of the game’s best features are stripped out, along with my game saves. Had I chosen to pirate the game (I wouldn’t do that, but let’s pretend) I wouldn’t be faced with these problems – I’d be able to launch the game, and play without worrying about Conflux issues, or server maintenance.

By using extremely restrictive DRM Ubisoft has made buying their games less attractive than pirating them. The game actually functions worse when bought than when pirated, and as a result, the pirated version of the game becomes the more appealing version.

Publishers and developers need to explore different avenues for protecting their games. By adding hurdles for the paying customer they’re just encouraging piracy instead of hampering it. They need to make the legitimate version of the game more attractive than the illicit version.

I’d love to see games that reward the paying customer for their loyalty and support. Ubisoft has already proven that server checks can be built into the core of a game, so why not use those checks to reward the player instead of punishing them? Instead of using that tech to lock down the game, developers could easily use it to deliver something extra to paying customers – perhaps some sort of online stat tracking functionality similar to that found in Battlefield 3’s Battlelog, or maybe a steady stream of small pieces of free DLC.

The proper reward for the paying customer is going to vary from game to game, but no matter what the method, developers and publishers need to reevaluate their DRM strategies. Going too far down the “punish the paying customer” path could ultimately wind up bolstering piracy, and that’s bad for everyone.  These companies need to see a return on their investment in order to justify producing the next game they have planned, and discouraging piracy will help to draw in that money, but they have to do so in a customer friendly way. Continuing down the path of restrictive DRM just makes piracy more appealing.

My Game of the Year Awards for 2011

 

Well, the year’s almost over. Tomorrow night, I’ll be ringing in the new year at a fundraiser event for KAM, but today, I’m thinking back on 2011 and kicking off the first (and possibly last) annual What the Geek Game of the Year Awards.

To be completely clear, there’s no real scientific method behind my choices here. These picks come from the heart, not from the head. These are the games that brought me joy, engaged me, or touched me in some other way this year.

So without further ado, let the awards begin!

Biggest Disappointment 

This award goes out to the game that managed to create a certain set of expectations during the months leading up to its release and then failed to meet those expectations.

And the winner is…

Dead Island

Do you remember that trailer? I sure as hell do. I had heard a few things about Dead Island over the years leading up to its release, but all of the plot details I had heard were sketchy at best. This trailer left me with the impression that Dead Island would offer a serious and somber story about a zombie infection on an island resort. As it turns out, there’s very little that’s serious or somber about Dead Island. That’s not to say that it’s a bad game, just that it didn’t meet the expectation Deep Silver and Techland created with that trailer.

Biggest Surprise

This award goes to the game that managed to exceed the expectations I had for it.

And the winner is…

Dead Island

It can win Biggest Disappointment and Biggest Surprise – who said it couldn’t? No one, that’s who. These are my awards and I’ll hand them out as I see fit. If you don’t like it, start your own GotY awards.

Dead Island was developed by Techland, the folks who brought you the Call of Juarez franchise. That franchise, and Techland as a whole don’t have a reputation for excellence, but despite a few bugs, Dead Island managed to keep my attention for a good long time. In fact, I plan to spend even more time with it in the new year.. Even when the game does glitch, it never does so in a game-breaking way. More often than not, the glitches are entertaining rather than frustrating, and the total package (bugs and all) is extremely enjoyable.

How can a bug be enjoyable? Let me give you an example. At one point while walking down the beach, I kicked a beach ball, and died immediately. There were no zombies nearby, so I can only assume the beach ball killed me somehow. Dead Island doesn’t penalize you terribly hard for dying, so instead of being an irritant, this glitch put me on a quest to kick every beach ball I came across to see if I could recreate the murderous beach ball glitch. I never did recreate it, but I’ll never ever forget it.

Glitches aside, Dead Island provides a robust and enjoyable gameplay experience that surpassed all my expectations (aside from those expectations that dealt directly with the story). That excellent gameplay earns Dead Island the Biggest Surprise award.

Best Presentation

This award goes to the game that provides the best total audio and video experience. That doesn’t mean the game with the most realistic graphics, or the game that melted the most video cards (though those games were included in my deliberation on this one) it means the game that used both sound design and visual presentation to create an attractive and engaging experience.

And the winner is…

Uncharted 3

Naughty Dog paid a tremendous amount of attention to how everything looks and sounds in Uncharted 3, and all of that effort really paid off. Nolan North delivers a great performance as Nathan Drake (both in terms of voice and motion capture) but that’s not where the presentation begins and ends. The detail put into the environments as well as the great sound effects, and effective use of surround sound all add up to an amazing video game.

 Best Download-Only Game

As the name implies, this award goes out to the best game that doesn’t come in a box. This may have been the toughest decision of all of these awards – there were A LOT of great downloadable games this year. Indie developers have been releasing some really excellent games on Steam, and all the major publishers have been launching smaller, more experimental games on XBLA and PSN. But there can only be one winner.

And the winner is…

Iron Brigade

You may remember this game by its original name Trenched, but thanks to some legal shenanigans, Double Fine had to change the name to Iron Brigade. Even under a different name this game still offers up some great gameplay. Iron Brigade does a great job of combining tower defense and third person action to create a unique and enjoyable game. Play it alone, play it with friends…. just play it.

 The Top 5

A lot of folks do top ten lists, and that’s fine, but I had some trouble with that. I just couldn’t settle on which game deserved which slot for numbers six through ten, so I just cut that part of the list all together.

As with the other awards, these are all picked based solely on their impact on me.

5. L.A. Noire

I’ve always been a big fan of just about everything Rockstar puts out, but Team Bondi really managed to impress me with L.A. Noire. This game combines the great gun play and action of a GTA game with the thoughtful nature of a point and click adventure game to form something truly unique. Team Bondi may have fallen apart after L.A Noire shipped, but I really hope this franchise isn’t dead – I want more games like this!

4. Uncharted 3

You already know how I feel about the presentation in Uncharted 3, but there’s a lot more to it than just good looks and great sound. In both the single player campaign, and the multiplayer Uncharted 3 offers exceptional gameplay. My girlfriend has a fear of heights, and she can’t watch me play this game (let alone play it herself) because it stirs up that fear each time Drake finds himself dangling from a high ledge. Any game that can evoke that kind of emotion in a spectator deserves high praise.

3. Batman: Arkham City

Back in 2009 Batman Arkham Asylum surprised the hell out of me by being a great game. This year, Arkham City surprised me by being even better. With an open environment, more super villains, and more Bat-gadgets, Arkham City did an amazing job of putting the player int he shoes of The Dark Knight.

2. Battlefield 3

I’m a sucker for a shooter with a good multiplayer component, and Battlefield 3 really delivers on that front. When you throw helicopters, tanks, jets, destructible environments, and 64 players into a large map, the end result is chaos of the best kind. Each match feels epic in its own special way, and I’ll never get tired of watching jets fall from the sky in a fiery blaze of glory.

1. Skyrim

I’ve spent 90 hours playing Skyrim so far, and I see no reason to stop there. This game is huge, and full of interesting things to do. You can become a powerful wizard, a wanted thief, a murdered, or you can even play as a pacifist. This game puts very few limitations on what you can do, and it offers up a lot of great quests, and plenty of areas to explore. It’s big, it’s fun, and it will keep you coming back for more… and more… and more and then maybe even a little more after that.

Honorable Mention

Two games deserve honorable mention despite not making the list.

Saint’s Row The Third

I have a feeling that, had I spent more time with it this year, Saint’s Row The Third might have made my top five. This game offers some of the craziest, most over-the-top gameplay ever found in a video game. Ever. If you ever played a GTA game and had a good time with it, go get this game right now.

Trackmania 2: Canyon

I’m not entirely sure I’d call Trackmania 2 a GOOD game, but it’s definitely a game I spent a lot of time with this year. Sure, there’s a single player mode, but the wealth of user created tracks makes this game worth coming back to again and again. Each time I fire it up and hop on a new server, I see a track I never saw before. Sometimes those tracks are a lot of fun, and sometimes they’re just terribly bad, but the experience is always unique when compared to all other racing games.

 

 

Dear Microsoft,, Please Plug These Holes.

Over the past several months Xbox Live accounts (including mine) have been getting hacked en masse. Once the hacker has taken control of the victim’s account, they’re buying up as many Microsoft Points as they can, and spending them all on in game currency for FIFA 11 or FIFA 12. Then, from within their FIFA game of choice, the hacker buys up items for FIFA Ultimate Team, and presumably sends those items off to their personal XBL account.

After contacting Microsoft about the issue, victims are forced to wait a whopping 25 business days to hear back about the security breach, during which time their account is locked down.

As anyone who has ever worked in the IT department can tell you, there’s no way to anticipate every potential security hole, but you should always try anyway. Microsoft could stand to go back to basics when it comes to Xbox Live security. By using two simple tricks other companies have been implementing for a while now, they could significantly reduce the number of hacked XBL accounts.

For years now hackers have been gaining access to Xbox Live accounts by using a little bit of social engineering on Xbox Live customer service reps. There’s absolutely no way to put a complete stop to this – as long as humans are involved in the customer service process, human error will also be involved. Microsoft could, however, take steps to be sure that they’re dealing with the right person.

I’m not talking about asking security questions, or having a customer verify their address – the customer service reps already do those things, but sometimes that’s not enough. By taking just one extra step, Microsoft could weed out a significant number of fraudulent phone calls – email the owner of the account about the phone call.

If a customer calls in to change their account password or any other piece of sensitive information, sending an email to the account holder with a link to verify the change would almost certainly decrease the number of hijacked accounts.

Before a hacker can do any damage to an Xbox Live account, they first have to log into it either from their computer, or their Xbox 360. If only someone could come up with a validation system for each device you access an account from… oh wait…

Steam totally does that already! I’m not a programmer, nor do I know enough about programming and Xbox Live infrastructure to speak in an educated manner on this topic, but it seems to me that it would at least be possible to implement something similar on Xbox Live. By putting up a road block the first time you access your Windows Live account from a new computer or a new Xbox 360, Microsoft would be able to thwart plenty of hackers before they ever get the chance to do any harm.

Neither of these measures are perfect; in fact, both could be nullified by hacking an Xbox Live user’s primary email address. Still, implementing additional security measures can’t make matters any worse than they already are, and standing still when it comes to security won’t solve anything. If Microsoft wants to earn their customers’ trust, it’s time for them to step up their security game.

Swag Bucks Tells Us How They Feel About Cancer

Swag Bucks is known for offering great sweepstakes, and all sorts of freebies and goodies, but they’re more than that. They have strong feelings on the tough issues facing the world today as evidenced by this “cancer sucks” captcha. I’m looking forward to seeing more of these on their site – maybe “the recession blows” or “screw poverty”.

 

The Tale of a Hacked Xbox Live Account

On September 6th, just after 9 AM, I received an email informing me that my purchase of 1600 Microsoft points had been unsuccessful. This was something of a surprise, as I had not attempted to buy any Microsoft points that day, so I logged into my Xbox Live account to find out what was going on.

Sure enough, all of the Microsoft points that were stored in my XBL account had been spent on in game items for FIFA 11 (I don’t own that game… hell, I don’t even like soccer video games) and whoever spent my MS points had then tried to purchase more. Presumably, when that purchase failed, they abandoned my account and went on to steal from some other unsuspecting gamer.

Upon making this discovery, I promptly called Xbox customer support. An apathetic young man who’s name escapes me at the moment answered, and after asking me a long series of questions designed to verify my identity, he told me that my account would be locked for “up to 25 days” while the issue was investigated.  He ended the call by reminding me to check out Xbox.com for more information on all the cool services I wouldn’t be using for the next month, adding insult to injury.

After about two weeks had passed, I decided to call in just to see if there was any news on the investigation. After navigating through the series of prompts 1-800-4-MY-XBOX had to offer, a woman with a thick Indian accent informed me that it would actually take 21 business days, not 25 calendar days, and she said I’d probably hear back sometime in October.

Finally on Monday October 3rd my Xbox Live account was reinstated, and Microsoft provided a code for a free month of XBL without my having to ask for it. Unfortunately, after following the instructions provided by Microsoft’s customer service department via email, I was unable to redeem that code. It turns out that by recovering my gamertag to my console I actually flagged the account to be locked again. Fortunately, this issue was corrected by a five minute phone call to customer service.

Once my account was back in order, I replied to the email I received with several questions I wanted answered. Below is an excerpt from that email.

First, how was my account breached? I don’t do anything with my windows live ID other than visit Xbox.com, and log into my Xbox 360, and I don’t give out passwords. For my protection, I’d like to know how the breach happened so I can take any necessary actions to prevent it in the future.

Second, which parts of my account were accessed by the hacker? If they accessed my credit card information in any way, I need to know about it so that I can contact any of the cards that may have been affected in order to prevent fraudulent charges.

Third, how do I go about removing all of my credit cards from my account? I will use cards purchased from stores to up my XBL subscription, and to purchase MS points – I no longer need, nor want any credit cards associated with this account, as it has proven to be insecure. email.

All of those points seemed like reasonable requests to me. Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal would most likely agree with me, given that he had some choice words for Sony earlier this year when the Playstation Network was hacked, and millions of customers had their personal information stolen. In a letter to Jack Tretton, president and CEO of SCEA, Senator Blumenthal said the following:

When a data breach occurs, it is essential that customers be immediately notified about whether and to what extent their personal and financial information has been compromised. Additionally, PlayStation Network users should be provided with financial data security services, including free access to credit reporting services, for two years, the costs of which should be borne by Sony. Affected individuals should also be provided with sufficient insurance to protect them from the possible financial consequences of identity theft.

Microsoft doesn’t quite see eye to eye with me, or Senator Blumenthal, as evidenced by their response to my request.

Dear Xbox LIVE Customer:

We apologize, but we are not at liberty to explain our investigation process. However $ 16.03 has been refunded to your account. Refunds could take up to 5-10 business days prior to displaying in your billing activity. It may take 30 days or longer to appear on your statement, depending on your financial institution’s policies.

If you have any concerns regarding this notice, you may either reply to this message or contact Xbox Customer Support directly using the information available at http://www.xbox.com/support/contact and reference the Service Request number above.

Sincerely,

The Xbox LIVE Escalations Team

I emailed them back to let them know that I did appreciate the refund, but that I’d still need to know how my personal information was accessed in order to take any necessary precautions, and as of this writing, I haven’t received a response (though I’ll update this post if I do).

It’s also worth noting that they completely dodged the bit about removing credit cards from my XBL account. That’s because you have to have at least one payment method associated with your Xbox Live account. If you want to remove the credit card associated with Xbox Live autobilling, you’ll first have to associate a different card, or your Paypal account with XBL.

So, after a month long investigation, Microsoft will only acknowledge what I knew on September 6th – that someone other than myself accessed my Xbox Live account. They are either unable, or unwilling to give me any information about how my account was accessed, or about which (if any) pieces of my personal information were taken by the hacker. In other words, someone gained access to my account, may or may not have accessed my personal information, and spent my Microsoft points, and Microsoft does not intend to help to protect me from any of the potential hazards associated with having my personal information accessed.

At least when Sony gave out my personal information they offered identity theft protection to make up for it.

I reached out to Xbox Live’s Director of Policy and Enforcement Stephen Toulouse prior to writing this article for information on Microsoft’s end of the investigation process, but unfortunately, he did not return my email.

With no word from Microsoft on what information the hacker may have accessed, and no concrete information from Toulouse on Microsoft’s hacked account investigation process, I’m left feeling like my Xbox Live account may wind up being a security liability.

UPDATE: Both Ars Technica and Gizmodo have received the following response from Microsoft after inquiring about the recent rash of XBL hacking:

We do not have any evidence the Xbox LIVE service has been compromised. We take the security of our service seriously and work on an ongoing basis to improve it against evolving threats. However, a limited number of members have contacted us regarding unauthorized access to their accounts by outside individuals. We are working with our impacted members directly to resolve any unauthorized changes to their accounts. As always, we highly recommend our members follow the Xbox LIVE Account Security guidance provided at www.xbox.com/security to protect your account

Well, at least the entirety of Xbox Live wasn’t hacked – that’s good news, right? This is still a fairly widespread issue if the comments and forums across the internet are any indication, and Microsoft would do well to consider additional security measures to prevent future hacking attempts from being successful.

Kevin Mitnick Will Have Work in 2027 Thanks to Deus Ex: Human Revolution

In these uncertain economic times no one can claim full job security, much less predict where they’ll be working in 16 years. No one except for Kevin Mitnick that is.

Thanks to Eidos Montreal, developers of Deus Ex: Human Revolution Mitnick now knows where he’ll be in 16 years – working for a fictional company that produces human augmentations. Not to shabby for a guy who did time for hacking!

Who Wants to Buy My Diablo 3 Loot?

Diablo 3 may be the most anticipated PC game of all time, but, as it turns out, it will implement one of the most loathed concepts in PC gaming – a system where you can pay real money for in-game loot. Blizzard announced today that Diablo 3 will contain an in-game auction system where players will be able to buy and sell items with their hard-earned cash.  Continue reading “Who Wants to Buy My Diablo 3 Loot?”

Pandora: A Case Study on the True Price of Bad Marketing



After taking a break from Pandora for about a year and a half, I recently dove back in, and I’m loving it.They do a far better job of picking music I like than competitors like Slacker and Last FM. Despite the quality of Pandora’s service, I might still wander away from them again. Not because I don’t care for the service or the company, but because they have made it difficult to just keep listening.  Continue reading “Pandora: A Case Study on the True Price of Bad Marketing”