Valve’s headman Gabe Newell has responded to accusations that Valve’s anti-cheat system is combing through and reporting the browsing history of Steam users, outright denying the claims.
Posting directly to Reddit, where the allegations were originally presented, Newell discussed what Steam’s VAC system does that might appear as if it’s looking through browser history – explaining why as well.
Cheat developers have a problem in getting cheaters to actually pay them for all the obvious reasons, so they start creating DRM and anti-cheat code for their cheats. These cheats phone home to a DRM server that confirms that a cheater has actually paid to use the cheat,” he wrote.
VAC checked for the presence of these cheats. If they were detected VAC then checked to see which cheat DRM server was being contacted. This second check was done by looking for a partial match to those (non-web) cheat DRM servers in the DNS cache. If found, then hashes of the matching DNS entries were sent to the VAC servers. The match was double checked on our servers and then that client was marked for a future ban. Less than a tenth of one percent of clients triggered the second check. 570 cheaters are being banned as a result.”
Newell also pointed out that cheaters typically employ tactics such as the browser history claim to manipulate users’ trust of the system in place.
There is also a social engineering side to cheating, which is to attack people’s trust in the system. If ‘Valve is evil – look they are tracking all of the websites you visit’ is an idea that gets traction, then that is to the benefit of cheaters and cheat creators,” he wrote.
VAC is inherently a scary looking piece of software, because it is trying to be obscure, it is going after code that is trying to attack it, and it is sneaky. For most cheat developers, social engineering might be a cheaper way to attack the system than continuing the code arms race, which means that there will be more Reddit posts trying to cast VAC in a sinister light.
Our response is to make it clear what we were actually doing and why with enough transparency that people can make their own judgements as to whether or not we are trustworthy.”
Newell concluded his post with a brief FAQ on the subject:
Do we send your browsing history to Valve? No. Do we care what porn sites you visit? Oh, dear god, no. My brain just melted,” Newell added.
Is Valve using its market success to go evil? I don’t think so, but you have to make the call if we are trustworthy. We try really hard to earn and keep your trust.”