It’s a Hacker’s, Hacker’s, Hacker’s World
Resident Evil 7: Biohazard was released worldwide on January 24, 2017.1 By the end of the weekend, the game had been successfully “cracked.” 2 While it is true that many PC games are cracked and pirated by the experienced hacker community, this crack was of particular significance because the crack was of the Denuvo DRM protection and it happened within a week. 3
Who is Denuvo? And what is a DRM protection? Denuvo Software Solutions (“Denuvo”) is a developer, “the global #1 Application Protection and Anti-Piracy Technology Platform.”4 “A Digital Rights Management (DRM) system binds the game to a legitimate user account and allows the game to be played whenever and wherever the consumer wants to download and execute the game.”5 Denuvo’s bread and butter, then, comes with their Anti-Tamper technology that “prevents the reverse engineering and changing of executable files to strengthen the security of games,” and “protects DRM solutions…from being circumvented.”6
Denuvo’s expensive anti-tamper technology is touted because it had previously been known to be extremely difficult to crack.7 Hackers must first get through Denuvo’s anti-tamper technology, which is used to encrypt the software that it protects, before they can even try to circumvent the DRM.8. In order to break through Denuvo’s protection, hackers must “sift through a game’s code in order to remove multiple trigger points before a cracked version can be created.”9 This makes cracking Denuvo’s anti-tamper technology time-consuming and arduous. Furthermore, these “trigger points” vary from each game under the protection of Denuvo, and Denuvo regularly makes updates.10 Once Denuvo is made aware of a particular weakness, it sends updates to fix these vulnerabilities, ensuring protection for legitimate consumers and routing hackers’ efforts. 11 The labor-intensive task of cracking Denuvo software, combined with the fact that due to the variation of trigger points across Denuvo-protected games there is no possible way to automate the process of cracking the anti-tamper technology, had made Denuvo something of a legend. That is, until now.
Denuvo anti-tamper technology has been bypassed before; several times, in fact. But usually after many weeks, or many months.12 The protection is not impenetrable, but it is one of the best out there. With news of this recent, and incredibly swift bypass of the Denuvo anti-tamper protection, the future of DRM protection is unclear and, consequently, the future of PC game distribution could be in jeopardy. If Denuvo, one of the best DRM protections available in the industry, can be bypassed within a matter of days, there may be no stopping the cracking of upcoming and future releases of games protected by Denuvo or any other developer. What will happen to the game distributors when their profits are severely undercut as a consequence of rampant and immediate pirating, days within the release of a game? What incentive will game developers have if their hard work is not rewarded? These are all questions we will have to wait to get answers to. Perhaps Denuvo and other DRM protection developers will find a way to one-up the hackers and innovate yet another way to thwart their cracking efforts.