PC anti-cheat software is designed to detect and prevent cheating in multiplayer online games. Cheating can ruin the gaming experience, so anti-cheat tools are an important part of competitive online gaming.
How does anti-cheat software work?
Anti-cheat tools use a variety of techniques to identify and block cheating. Here are some of the main approaches:
- Scanning for known cheat signatures – Anti-cheat scans your system memory and game files for patterns of code or files that match known cheats.
- Monitoring for suspicious behavior – The software analyzes gameplay metrics like accuracy, speed, damage, etc. and looks for statistical anomalies that could indicate hacks.
- Kernel-level driver – An anti-cheat driver runs at the kernel level of your OS, giving it access to monitor system processes and memory for cheating software.
- Machine learning – Advanced anti-cheat systems are starting to use machine learning to more quickly identify new cheat software based on behavioral analysis.
When cheating is detected, the anti-cheat delivers a ban or other punitive measures. Penalties can range from temporary suspensions to permanent hardware bans preventing that system from playing.
Common anti-cheat systems
Some popular anti-cheat tools used in major online PC games include:
Valve Anti-Cheat (VAC)
VAC is developed by Valve and used in popular games like Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Dota 2, and more. It scans for cheat signatures and monitors behavioral anomalies. Penalties are usually game bans on accounts.
EasyAntiCheat is a third-party anti-cheat system incorporated into games like Apex Legends, Rainbow Six Siege, and Fortnite. It uses signature scanning, machine learning, and kernel-level drivers to identify cheats.
BattlEye provides anti-cheat protection for games like PUBG, Rainbow Six Siege, and Escape from Tarkov. It combines signature scanning, behavioral analysis, machine learning, and kernel-level drivers to detect cheating.
PunkBuster was one of the first advanced anti-cheat systems, though it has declined in use today. It still offers cheat protection for older games like Battlefield 4 and Rainbow Six Siege.
What can trigger anti-cheat bans?
Here are some of the common things that can lead an anti-cheat system to ban a player:
- Running cheat programs – Any software that modifies the game to give an unfair advantage will be detected.
- Exploiting glitches – Intentionally abusing in-game bugs and glitches for an advantage may result in a ban.
- Unauthorized third-party software – Some anti-cheat tools will flag harmless programs like visual enhancers or macros.
- Manipulating game files – Editing game code, assets, and memory values often triggers anti-cheat.
- VPN connections – Connecting to a VPN can look like cheating behavior in some cases.
- Sharing accounts – Account sharing is prohibited in most games and can lead bans if detected.
- Offensive player names – Bigoted, hateful, or extremely obscene usernames may result in bans.
False positives are rare but can happen with some anti-cheat systems being overly aggressive. But generally, legitimate players don’t need to worry about getting unjustly banned.
Controversies around anti-cheat technology
While anti-cheat tools are intended to protect multiplayer gaming, they have also sparked some controversies, including:
- Privacy concerns – Kernel-level anti-cheat drivers are invasive and can access personal data, raising privacy issues.
- Security risks – Anti-cheat software with deep system access also creates potential vulnerabilities if the anti-cheat gets compromised.
- Performance impacts – Some anti-cheat systems hog system resources which can negatively impact game performance.
- Ban appeals – The lack of appeal process with some anti-cheats is controversial when false positives cause unjust bans.
- Intrusive scanning – Constant scanning of system files and memory by anti-cheats has been characterized as intrusive spying by critics.
Game developers have to balance anti-cheat effectiveness with player concerns around privacy, security, and fairness. Some developers, like Riot, have implemented notification and consent requirements before enabling kernel-level anti-cheat drivers.
Top anti-cheats used in esports
Here are examples of popular anti-cheat systems used to protect the integrity of major esports competitions:
|Counter-Strike: Global Offensive||VAC + FACEIT|
|League of Legends||Riot Vanguard|
|Rainbow Six Siege||BattlEye + Fairfight|
Third-party tournament organizers like FACEIT and ESL also implement their own anti-cheat to defend competitions. The strict anti-cheat enforcement ensures esports stays fair and skill-based.
Should singleplayer games use anti-cheat?
There is debate around whether invasive anti-cheat measures are necessary in singleplayer games where cheating does not impact others. Some argue:
- Singleplayer cheating is a personal choice that doesn’t hurt other players.
- Preventing modding can limit creative ways to play singleplayer games.
- Performance impact is not justified for only singleplayer benefit.
- Privacy risks outweigh benefits when no multiplayer advantage is gained.
However, some counterpoints in favor of anti-cheat include:
- Maintains fair leaderboards and rankings even in singleplayer.
- Anti-tamper protections help deter piracy and copying.
- Stops achievements and unlocks from being falsified.
- Can prevent the spread of exploits that may impact multiplayer.
- Kernel access allows advanced behavioral analysis to enhance solo gameplay.
Game developers ultimately have to decide if the trade-offs are worthwhile for just singleplayer anti-cheat protections.
The future of anti-cheat technology
Anti-cheat systems will likely continue advancing to try staying ahead of cheat developers. Some future anti-cheat trends include:
- More machine learning – ML-based behavioral analysis will become better at identifying cheats rapidly.
- Enhanced hardware banning – Fingerprinting tech like hardware IDs makes bans stick to cheaters.
- Client-server models – Processing anti-cheat on servers reduces client performance impact.
- Hybrid approaches – Combining client and server anti-cheat provides balanced protection.
- Automated cheat detection – AI-assisted tools will automatically detect and ban cheaters faster.
However, cheaters will continue looking for ways around any new anti-cheat protections. The cat-and-mouse game between game developers and cheat-makers is likely to continue as multiplayer gaming stays popular.
Anti-cheat systems are crucial for keeping multiplayer gaming fair and competitive by detecting cheating software and banning dishonest players. However, anti-cheat technology has also faced criticism around invasive scanning, security risks, false positives, and impacts on performance. The balance between effectiveness and player concerns continues to evolve. But with esports and competitive gaming booming in popularity, anti-cheat will remain an integral part of online gaming into the future.