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Is Blizzard Secretly Watermarking World of Warcraft Users?

By - Source: OwnedCore | B 33 comments

One World of Warcraft gamer has discovered that his screenshots secretly contain user info like the current server IP address, and the time the shot was taken.

There's indication that Activision Blizzard has been watermarking screenshots captured with World of Warcraft's in-game client application since at least 2008. There's also indication that Digimarc is the company behind the client's watermarking tech.

According to reports, these custom marks include user IDs, the time the in-game image was captured, and the IP address of the local World of Warcraft server. Why? Possibly to track down users that are violating Blizzard's Terms of Service like hacking the game or running a private server.

"A few days ago I noticed some weird artifacts covering the screenshots I captured using the WoW game client application. I sharpened the images and found a repeating pattern secretly embedded inside. I posted this information on the OwnedCore forum and after an amazing three-day cooperation marathon, we managed to prove that all our WoW screenshots, since at least 2008, contain a custom watermark," reports Sendatsu.

As seen here, there's a list of steps to take for those who want to be able to see the watermark on their screenshots, including finding the ideal spot that doesn't consist of a lot of textures (like snow). Users must also type /console SET screenshotQuality "9", take the shot, and then open the image in an external editor. After that, users must sharpen the image until the watermark appears – it will be a pattern of information, resembling a bar code or QR code.

"Apparently, each character has a different set of these repeatable patterns, which contain account and realm information, and it looks like if they are scanned by software that recognizes them, they can reveal our character's account name/id, the time of the screenshot and the the full information of the realm, including its IP address (think "private servers")," the post reads.

The post also points out that Blizzard's ToS allows it to communicate information about our hard drive, CPU, operating systems, IP addresses, running tasks, account name and current time and date. What it doesn't make clear is that World of Warcraft can embed some of that data into every screen captured with the in-game client. Thus, the screens fail to protect users from hackers that could use the IP address to link characters to accounts.

"The contained information can be easily recovered and decrypted by hackers, which compromises the privacy and security of our accounts! For example, someone could use this to identify which account holds which characters and perhaps stalk and annoy its user, or help perpetrators choose their phishing victims with a more targeted approach," the post states.

So far Blizzard hasn't responded to the claims, so stay tuned. To read the full lengthy post – and to see the watermarked shots – head here.

 

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Top Comments
  • 22 Hide
    Benthon , September 11, 2012 11:14 PM
    Let the paper shredding begin.
  • 21 Hide
    jhansonxi , September 11, 2012 11:12 PM
    Don't worry - the tracking info will be eliminated now that the practice has been made public. They'll replace it with steganography so you won't be so distracted by it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steganography#Digital
  • 14 Hide
    face-plants , September 12, 2012 3:08 AM
    Perfect reason why we need a white hat / grey hat hacking community. Who else would have made this info public?
Other Comments
    Display all 33 comments.
  • 21 Hide
    jhansonxi , September 11, 2012 11:12 PM
    Don't worry - the tracking info will be eliminated now that the practice has been made public. They'll replace it with steganography so you won't be so distracted by it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steganography#Digital
  • 22 Hide
    Benthon , September 11, 2012 11:14 PM
    Let the paper shredding begin.
  • 3 Hide
    thecolorblue , September 11, 2012 11:22 PM
    just another way we are tracked... AWESOME!!
    the zero privacy dystopian future is right around the corner.

    ...actually it's here already but the 100% loss of privacy that is the wet-dream of the dissent-suppressing corporate controlled govt will take another couple of years to really solidify.
  • 11 Hide
    thecolorblue , September 11, 2012 11:23 PM
    jhansonxiDon't worry - the tracking info will be eliminated now that the practice has been made public. They'll replace it with steganography so you won't be so distracted by it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steganography#Digital


    wow... very cool, ty for the link
  • -9 Hide
    ToKiiNz , September 11, 2012 11:26 PM
    did you people just relize this?
  • 9 Hide
    blazorthon , September 12, 2012 12:08 AM
    If you take a screen shot, apply something like a minor Photoshop or GIMP filter to it and it could irreparably damage watermark data such as this, right?
  • 4 Hide
    A Bad Day , September 12, 2012 12:09 AM
    jhansonxiDon't worry - the tracking info will be eliminated now that the practice has been made public. They'll replace it with steganography so you won't be so distracted by it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steganography#Digital


    The question is, how long would it take for them to switch?
  • 5 Hide
    ex_bubblehead , September 12, 2012 12:17 AM
    Quote:
    The question is, how long would it take for them to switch?


    It's possible that they already have and that what's been found was purposly left behind as a red herring.
  • 6 Hide
    spasmolytic46 , September 12, 2012 12:18 AM
    A Bad DayThe question is, how long would it take for them to switch?

    And what about the last 4+ years of pics already published?
  • 1 Hide
    BIL_ASC , September 12, 2012 12:20 AM
    Wow, so we've have been tracked all the time ?
    Lucky me, I don't do any strange thing
  • 4 Hide
    southernshark , September 12, 2012 1:11 AM
    Wow.... people still play WoW.

    Who knew?

  • 5 Hide
    A Bad Day , September 12, 2012 2:08 AM
    ex_bubbleheadIt's possible that they already have and that what's been found was purposly left behind as a red herring.


    It's also possible that Blizzard doesn't see it as a major problem for the users, until hacking reports ramp up, and they finally see the connection.
  • -2 Hide
    blazorthon , September 12, 2012 2:19 AM
    BIL_ASCWow, so we've have been tracked all the time ?Lucky me, I don't do any strange thing


    It looks like it's not tracking anything per say; the screen has watermarks that have data about your current log in session. It might be cause increased hacking, but tracking beyond tracking screen shots that Blizz sees doesn't seem to be going on through this. Of course, they're still snagging a huge amount of data about our systems that I don't like.
  • 14 Hide
    face-plants , September 12, 2012 3:08 AM
    Perfect reason why we need a white hat / grey hat hacking community. Who else would have made this info public?
  • 0 Hide
    jhansonxi , September 12, 2012 4:46 AM
    face-plantsPerfect reason why we need a white hat / grey hat hacking community. Who else would have made this info public?

    Metadata in graphic files is relatively common. Many graphics editors can show and edit them. Digital cameras add the date and time of a photo to JPEGs and most photo management tools sort them by date automatically.

    Somebody with a concern about privacy was probaby the first to notice AND complain about it.
  • 5 Hide
    digiex , September 12, 2012 6:47 AM
    Well, it's not a "secret" anymore.
  • 8 Hide
    PreferLinux , September 12, 2012 6:50 AM
    jhansonxiMetadata in graphic files is relatively common. Many graphics editors can show and edit them. Digital cameras add the date and time of a photo to JPEGs and most photo management tools sort them by date automatically.Somebody with a concern about privacy was probaby the first to notice AND complain about it.

    It is not metadata, it is a watermark on the image itself. The chances of any graphics editor being able to read it is extremely small as it will be a proprietary method.
  • -2 Hide
    djscribbles , September 12, 2012 12:29 PM
    No, those are urine stains... (now to read the article)
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