Stories and legends are told and retold about many companies and StarForce is no exception. For 15 years we have collected a number of the best stories; some of them are funny, some are scandalous and some can be rather instructive. Here for your entertainment are three and a half short stories with as subjects our affection for Star Wars, some gifted hackers, cats and of course our end user customers.
Legend 1. May the Force be with you
Only a person who is really light years distant from 'a galaxy far, far away' fails to see an association between StarForce and Star Wars. The first episode of the Star Wars saga was released in 1999 and that was just when our protection system was being created with an intensive software effort. According to the memoirs of contemporaries the release of the film was a big event for all who felt they could be intimate with Luke Skywalker on Fridays and Darth Vader on Mondays. We felt it too and there was a 'Star Wars' poster on the wall of the room where the intensive system design was progressing and this poster gave us a special atmosphere.
When we were preparing our protection system for a new release the team worked days and nights. And when people are very tired the way they talk can change. Our team started to use Yoda style: "take coffee from that red can, you can" or "to think about our universe (in a game) protection, I am going". As you can predict the reply "may the Force be with you" was used rather a lot.
Once an ordinary person came to visit our office. He was an electrician and didn't know anything about Star Wars and all this stuff. He came to replace some lighting in the room where the developers worked. The room was small and crowded and the electrician had to explain the purpose of his visit: "Uh, a light bulb, I need to replace". From all the desks at once came a synchronised pronouncement: "May the Force be with you". He looked around and said: "But I can do this myself". And when he was changing the bulb he grumbled to himself: "What force did they mean? What are they doing here?"
This funny little game helped to give us a positive feeling and contributed to coordination and teamwork. So when a decision was needed about the name for the protection system, there was no doubt about it - StarForce.
Legend 2. The First Hack or How we grew staff numbers
You may question if it is a good thing to write about a hacking incident because it could harm the company's reputation. Of course hacking is a bad thing. But it is not always that bad. There are white hat hackers who find vulnerabilities to improve a security system and may be... to find a new job.
Please enjoy an extract from the Dmitry Guseff book "So the Star tempered ... 10 light years".
One day we found out that someone had published in the net an article containing methods of hacking StarForce protection. It was devoted to the version used to protect the game "Cossacks: European Wars". The article's author didn't pose himself as a professional hacker. He explained that his interest was only in the area of research. We studied the article and the conclusion was disappointing: though the material had some mistakes and misconceptions, on the whole it could be used as the base for a hacking activity. You need to know that after almost 2 years of working on the market we were used to think about our protection system as 100% unbreakable. So the fact that someone was so close to cracking it was like a cold shower on a hot summers day for all of us. A fortnight later the same author published fragments of disassembled code taken from the game. The work was brilliant. We knew about most of the vulnerabilities that the hacker used in his work, but did not have time to close them in time.
- I received this link in the morning, - the Analyst was sitting hunched at the computer screen..
- StarForce Virtual Machine Analyzer - the Architect read aloud from behind the shoulder of the the Analyst.
- Yo-ho-ho - the Developer said nervously, - We have it coming.
- I have studied it already - the author disassembled the virtual machine. Of course the material is raw and it is based on guesses. But it could help to create a crack for Cossacks just a week or two after its release, - the Analyst said.
- But the release was half of a year ago! - the Validator entered the conversation.
- Right you are. It seems to me that he was working hard all this time to find the solution. And ta-dah! But the description of his solution is too difficult and it is highly unlikely that anyone except the author himself could use it - explained the Analyst.
- Taking into consideration the fact that every later protected application has a different protection structure will it work for everyone? - asked the Driver Expert.
- Fortunately it will. What he has done will enter the history books, and who knows what else he could come up with, - answered the System Expert.
- It is necessary to analyze the hacker's work and understand all the threats - the Logician turned to the Driver Expert, - and when everything is clear we can start to panic.
We agreed to do it like this and after two days of research it was concluded that the hacker was at least very talented. The first fright left because we confirmed that the method offered by the hacker was in fact very tangled and difficult to apply so that in this state only the author could actually use it.
- What a competent lad!!
- It might be a girl, LOL!
- Don't think so - look at the nick.
- Why don't we invite this mmm... person to join us and direct his or her energy and knowledge to a peaceful course?
- You are reading my thoughts!
It was the time for us to make our move. The Analyst sent a private message through one of the forums. The hacker responded quickly and agreed to meet. Sometime afterwards a new employee was presented to the team:
Please get acquainted - the Researcher, - the Analyst introduced the novice pointedly.
The researcher was involved in prototyping development, studied the solutions of competitors, and analyzed the tamper resistance of StarForce solutions. In particular, based on his Cossacks research, he put forward a number of recommendations to improve the StarForce reliability.
Half of a Legend. About cat lovers
The developers of StarForce protection system despite their hardcore reputation are also have some very good human characteristics. Especially when the talk is about cats. Or kittens. Or kittens in trouble. You may say please get to the point and so I will.
Not far from our office one female employee found a kitten, which had been injured by a car. As the vets said afterwards the animal had been suffering for 12 hours there and little time was left to save it. The kind heart of our colleague didn't let her just pass by and so she launched a rescue operation. The kitten urgently needed surgical care. She used crowdfunding - StarForce employees were asked to donate to collect money for the surgery. The sum was serious and there were some doubt about the operation's success. If you have tried to collect money from your colleagues you can understand how difficult it is. But love to cats won - the needed sum was collected and it gave us a chance to save a little fluffy life.
The kitten found her shelter at one of our colleagues. He gave her a name - Mrs. Norris. Yes, you are on the right way if you think about Harry Potter novels - "the cat which survived". But there is also a connection with Chuck Norris - the actor with the image of a man who always wins. The kitten is still afraid to use one of her legs but she is cheerful and active. She likes to eat and sleep a lot - as all cats do. We are all watching for her recovery.
Legend 3. The Light side
The question about the need for protection is always open. There are publishers who think that protection can have a negative effect on the user experience and that gamers might be put off a game because of it. Potentially that might be fatal at current levels of competition. Development of platforms like Steam also points to the possibility that publishers don't need additional protection. But it is still here. StarForce protection is part of many modern games and a typical user will never know about it. The protection has become silent and invisible.
This story happened at Comic-Con. A young man approached us wishing to take revenge for old and likely unsuccessful attempts to crack our system. He wanted to troll us about the decline in the number of games published on CD. With this background he thought StarForce must be having a very difficult time. We decided to play along and agreed that we were having tough times because gamers preferred free online games instead of CDs.
- This is what I am talking about! I play only online now and it is awesome, - proclaimed our visitor.
- What games do you prefer?
- I like shooters in military style. For example, Warface. And sometimes World of Tanks, Armored Warfare.
- And how do you find it? - It captures me completely. I enjoy this parallel reality.
- You don't know that WarFace and Armored Warfare are protected by StarForce Technologies, do you?
- It can't be the truth. What do you protect there?
- Better to ask whom we protect. We help gamers. - StarForce helps gamers! Nonsense!
- Have you heard about cheaters?
- Those players who can see through the walls and can't die even if you try hard? Hate them. And does StarForce fight with them? Can't believe it. So you embraced the Light side... How unexpected...
The visitor left deep in thought.
2015 is a productive year for us. We developed a system for the National Electronic Library which allows reading of copyrighted books online in protected mode. We released StarForce Reader for Android and added Premium and Business accounts to our secure email service SFLetter.com. For now our protection solutions permeate digital space and time and the aim is to give copyright owners and businesses around the world the opportunity to safely share electronic documents, multimedia content and software applications without limitations.
StarForce: you create - we protect