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How Are Computer Games ‘Cracked’?

If you love to play computer games, you might have played a pirated or cracked version of a game at least once in your life. According to a report, around 90% of total PC gamers have played a pirated games at least once. Piracy is the biggest hindrance to the gaming and software industry. Although the authorities are taking strict actions against the pirated games and programs distributors and promoters, once something is on the internet, it is almost impossible to take it down and stop its spread.

If you have ever played the pirated game, you might have noticed that it comes with one or multiple ‘cracked’ files that allow you to bypass the registration of the game and play it for free. The end-users, i.e., the gamers, need not have much technical knowledge and could easily crack the games by following the instructions provided by the programmer or hacker who cracked the game.

Many of you might have wondered what technique or tool the hacker uses to break the game that allows the users to easily play the paid games for free.

In this post, we would walk through the techniques used by the cyberattackers to crack the game, and further, we would discuss what tools they use to apply the technique.

How are computer games Cracked?

There are various ways a computer game is cracked. All the methods are one or another way to perform reverse engineering to deceive the registration process. The first step is to study the registry system and then find a way to navigate to it. Then a common patch is developed so that the end-users can easily take advantage of the loophole and bypass the activation process. This is done in the following ways:

Hex-Reading

This is a basic level of game cracking and was popular in the initial piracy days. It is applicable to the games that use a separate executable program for the registration process. Let us understand Hex-Reading through an example.

Suppose a game asks you for a registration key, and upon entering the wrong key, it displays “Registration Failed. Enter the Correct Key.” To get the registration key, a separate registration file is run through a Hex-Reader and the displayed warning “Registration Failed. Enter the Correct Key” is searched. When the warning phrase is found in the Hex-Reader, the string near it will show the correct registration key, which is used for comparing the entered key.

As already mentioned, this method was used in the early days of software and games cracking. Now, the game developers have found a way to overcome this, so it only works on very few small games.

Hex-Editing

The initial process of a Hex-Editing is similar to the Hex-Reading. On entering the wrong key, the error message “Registration Failed. Enter the Correct Key” is displayed. Since Hex-Reading does not work here, the game is opened in a dissembler to understand its codes. A dissembler is a tool that shows the code line by line. Using the string references, the programmer finds out the displayed error message. The code compares the entered serial key with a preset and jumps to start the program once it is finished.

The file is then opened in the Hex-Editor, and the code is changed to assembly to make it editable. Now, the code is manipulated so that any typed key works during the registration process, whether correct or wrong. Thus the game is cracked. Using this way, the intruders can also manipulate the .dll and .so files to extend the trial period of a program.

Debugging

In some games, the string reference is not hardcoded in the program, so a debugger is used to access it. The file is opened in a debugger to set a breakpoint in the program on a Windows API call. The point where the key is compared is located and manipulated to allow all types of keys.

Keygen

Another popular method to crack the games is the Keygen or key generator. There are many games that do not have a single registration key; instead, every user requires to enter a unique key for validation. The game developing company develops unique keys that do not follow any pattern, thus making it impossible to guess the correct key.

Such games have a pre-defined program that determines whether the entered key is correct or not. The intruders disassemble the game and find out that program. They analyze what the program is designed to do when entered a key. Using the same formula, they create another program known as Keygen to generate the keys that fulfill the game’s formula.

This only works when the user is offline so that the game can’t verify the registration with the company’s server. After the game is successfully registered offline, in most cases, the internet can be enabled.

Tools used for Cracking the games

Cracked Games

Cracking is not possible without some tools. Let us list out the common tools used for cracking the games.

Debugger

A debugger is a special tool designed to monitor the execution of a program. It helps the programmer to identify the line of code where the error message of an invalid registration key is displayed. After finding that line, the programmer can easily manipulate it to bypass the registration.

Hex-Editor

A Hex-Editor is used to change the hex values of the application. When an application displays the error message of an invalid registration key, the Hex-Editor can be used to get the registration key or manipulate that line of code to skip the registration.

Disassembler

The disassembler is the opposite of the assembler. While the assembler compiles the low-level code to executable code, the disassembler does the opposite so that the programming codes can be edited easily.

Why shouldn’t you play the Cracked Games?

Here are the reasons you should avoid playing the pirated games:

  • The pirated games might come with the bundled malicious programs such as Free Auto Clicker and harm the computer.
  • It is morally incorrect to play the cracked games and use the pirated software. The developers suffer huge financial losses because of piracy.
  • Downloading and installing the cracked version of the games is illegal in many countries and might land you in prison or/and cause a monetary fine.
  • With pirated games, you cannot play online. So, if any game support online plays, then its cracked version is useless.
  • You won’t be able to update the cracked games.
  • Cracked games might not provide you an authentic gameplay experience as they are modified and might cause glitches.

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