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Hacker Steals $12 Million Worth of Zynga Poker Chips 99

Posted by Soulskill
from the eyes-bigger-than-stomach dept.
Gamasutra reports that a 29-year-old British man has been convicted of hacking into Zynga's game servers and helping himself to 400 billion virtual poker chips. "'The defendant sold around one third of the 400 billion poker chips, and looking at the auction history where one can purchase such items, he was selling them for around £430 ($695) per billion,' said prosecutor Gareth Evans, according to a report from local newspaper Herald Express. Sold legitimately through Zynga, the full amount of chips would have brought in some $12 million. The prosecutor estimated that if Mitchell sold all of the virtual chips on the black market, he would have made a fraction of that, around £184,000 ($297,000). Evans admitted that valuing virtual currency can be difficult and that the company was not actually deprived of tangible goods, but he said that the theft could still affect the developer by indirectly causing legitimate online gamers to stop playing Zynga Poker or its other games."
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Hacker Steals $12 Million Worth of Zynga Poker Chips

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  • The next boom/bust cycle will happen with virtual currency. Hope that nobody's retirement savings will be invested in the virtual world.
    • Re:Prediction (Score:5, Insightful)

      by somersault (912633) on Thursday February 03, 2011 @03:14AM (#35088164) Homepage Journal

      A lot of currency is already "virtual", ie there is no gold or even paper currency there backing it up.

      • Re:Prediction (Score:4, Insightful)

        by c0lo (1497653) on Thursday February 03, 2011 @05:03AM (#35088540)
        Yes, I know... And this is scary: the fact Zynga can function as a "private mint", yet having their currency treated as it would be an official banknote (traded on black-market, valuated against real-world "virtual currency"... that is dollar... obtaining a conviction of a person for "stealing them"?).
        Do you think Zynga will take care of the "inflation rate" on their currency? Do you think it is far the moment the "real-world persons" will start to be interested in different "virtual currencies"? How long 'til "real-world money" laundering/tax evasion and other schemes will get too tempting for the "Zynga's virtual economy" to refuse?
        Being both virtual, how long 'til the financial will start trading real stock for "private virtual currency"?
        • It's pretty much the same concept as buying a gift voucher for a store. If Zynga will honour their agreement, and the customer thinks it's worth the money, I don't see what the big deal is.

          • by c0lo (1497653)

            It's pretty much the same concept as buying a gift voucher for a store. If Zynga will honour their agreement, and the customer thinks it's worth the money, I don't see what the big deal is.

            Right... IF

            IF the financial world would have honoured their agreement and would have not wrap toxic mortgages in triple-A bonds to be sold to customers that thought the triple-A rating is real, then we wouldn't have spoken now about world economic crisis.

            IF the same financial world suddenly see Zynga-and-friends as a way to get around regulations and escape in an "unregulated virtual world", given that your salary in the bank and pension-funds is as "virtual" as the Zynga-dollars, what is going to happe

            • by Eivind (15695)

              You've got a choice. If you don't trust the dollar to have value - don't hold (significant amounts of) dollars.

              Instead, buy something you expect will have value - or a combination of several such things for added insurance against one of them collapsing.

              Think a kilo of gold will buy as much in the future as it will today ? Hold gold. Think that land will have value ? Buy land. Think that IBM is going to be a valuable company in the future ? Buy IBM. Think that the Yen is going to be worth something ? Hold Y

        • by drinkypoo (153816)

          Yes, I know... And this is scary: the fact Zynga can function as a "private mint", yet having their currency treated as it would be an official banknote (traded on black-market, valuated against real-world "virtual currency"... that is dollar... obtaining a conviction of a person for "stealing them"?).

          Why is that scary? I find it inspiring. It means that alternative currencies are possible today.

          • by c0lo (1497653)

            Yes, I know... And this is scary: the fact Zynga can function as a "private mint", yet having their currency treated as it would be an official banknote (traded on black-market, valuated against real-world "virtual currency"... that is dollar... obtaining a conviction of a person for "stealing them"?).

            Why is that scary? I find it inspiring. It means that alternative currencies are possible today.

            Because you may finish in loosing everything you worked for because the alternative currency is abused by a corporate you cannot even vote out every 4 years.

            • Because you may finish in loosing everything you worked for because the alternative currency is abused by a corporate you cannot even vote out every 4 years.

              You're right, it's even easier than voting every four years and crossing your fingers that a politician gives a damn (they don't). Here's what you do: Simply don't accept pay in that form.

              Tada! You are not required to accept payment in anything other than legal tender, which a dollar is but virtual currency is not.

              I find it funny that to prevent hypothetical virtual money shenanigans, you want to call in the US government to fix things up. Because, you know, those guys have such a great track recor

        • If you haven't already read "Halting State" by Charlie Stross .

          It deals with these issues. And is an enjoyable read anyway - as you'd expect from Stross.

          • by c0lo (1497653)

            If you haven't already read "Halting State" by Charlie Stross .

            No, I didn't. Thanks for the reference, seems promising.

          • by arth1 (260657)

            If you haven't already read "Halting State" by Charlie Stross .

            It deals with these issues. And is an enjoyable read anyway - as you'd expect from Stross.

            It's also a rarity in that it's written in 2nd person form.
            While that is not a problem per se, the jumps between personae make it rather jarring, as you spend the first few sentences of each subchapter guessing who the narrator is talking to.

            • by digitig (1056110)
              Yes, it's a good book despite the writing style rather than because of it. Some of the chapters I never did work out who the "you" was, but eventually I worked out that it didn't matter much.
              • by tehcyder (746570)

                it's a good book despite the writing style rather than because of it.

                Yes, that's really made me want to read it, thanks.

      • by Phoghat (1288088)
        About 20 years ago, my dumb ass brother-in-law told me that he read that someone had bought something (another company I think) for 4 billion dollars. He said to me that : "that's ridiculous. That amount of currency existed nowhere in the world" Sighing I turned my attention to my sister.
      • by tehcyder (746570)
        Mod parent -1 for mentioning the fucking gold standard.
    • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The next boom/bust cycle will happen with virtual currency. Hope that nobody's retirement savings will be invested in the virtual world.

      Yeah. That would be really bad if suddenly your money isn't worth anything anymore. I'm so glad that never happened up to now...

      • by rjstanford (69735)

        The next boom/bust cycle will happen with virtual currency. Hope that nobody's retirement savings will be invested in the virtual world.

        Yeah. That would be really bad if suddenly your money isn't worth anything anymore. I'm so glad that never happened up to now...

        Unless you've actually, physically lived in a country where you worked all day to earn a wheelbarrow full of money and hoped that you'd be able to trade it for a loaf of bread in the morning... it hasn't. Not to you. Buying an overpriced house that you can't sell for more than 70% of what you paid for it is not at all the same.

    • The next boom/bust cycle will happen with virtual currency. Hope that nobody's retirement savings will be invested in the virtual world.

      I hope it's a boom, not a bust that comes next. Still hoping to recoup some of the money I invested in Flooz [wikipedia.org]!

  • by Rivalz (1431453) on Thursday February 03, 2011 @02:46AM (#35088120)

    I was selling my physical monopooly currency to her for $100,000 for every 100 monopoly bucks.
    Sadly my news article never earned quite as much attention as this when I submitted it to /.
    I hope to one day throw her in prison, even tho she has admitted to damaging my business model my lawyer is skeptical of a positive outcome at trial.
    Something about suing a minor looking bad to the jury.

    • I can't relate your comment to the article or the insight score... but your comments are intriging... please explain

      • Re:explain (Score:5, Funny)

        by Cederic (9623) on Thursday February 03, 2011 @06:28AM (#35088800) Journal

        Rivalz and Zynga both sell an artificial currency (i.e. not 'legal tender' in any country) for 'real' money. Both have been the victims of a theft. If the thief in the Zynga case has been convicted then the implication is that there's now a precedent.

        Rivalz' insight is that taking that precedent to its logical extreme, his sister's about to be forced to turn lesbian.

    • It's funny, most of the stuff you have in your pocket is not that much different. You bring it to a bank and it just becomes a bunch of numbers on your credit account backed by nothing. Banks and the goverment basically play the same game, with the difference that they get away with it.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Actually the key difference is that the stuff in my pocket is backed by a government which also enforces laws and regulates commerce. As such it is recognized by that government as having a specific market value and standing in legal proceedings also recognized as official by that government. If governments were to allow private currencies to have the saem legal standing then companies like Visa or Amex could print their own money and let markets decide which held value or not. It's not a completely craz

    • My friend stole a few hundred trillion dollars from me the other day, as that's what I had valued my favourite pencil at had anyone wanted to purchase it from me.

      The only difference between our situations and the ones in the article is that there are actual transactions taking place, right now, for such items. With so many of them going on, they have a bit of a competitive market, which forces them to be roughly equal in price. This means that, in practice, this virtual currency DOES have a value, as much a

      • Uh... no, you can say your pencil is worth whatever you feel like it, but you didn't have that money stolen from you - you didn't even have it to begin with. Hard to lose money you didn't have to begin with, isn't it?
  • ...I'm currently looking at multiple life-sentences for committing mass-murder in (insert name of your favourite shoot-em-up).
  • From the article:

    Judge Wassell asked if the case was any different from stealing notes from the Royal Mint. Mr Evans said in theory it was not because the mint could produce more but the thief would have something tangible he could use elsewhere.

    This is interesting how artificially created scarcity [wikipedia.org] is being compared with actual scarcity. I am not an online game player who spends money on them, but seeing how easily poker chips are being sold in the black market by the chap, it seems to me that the poker chips one has is nothing more than a number written in a database field somewhere in the Zynga servers (unlike BitCoins [bitcoin.org]) and there is no more record of them than the database transaction logs. So, as I see it, people pay Zynga to in

    • Re:Mint analogy (Score:4, Informative)

      by declain (1338567) on Thursday February 03, 2011 @04:28AM (#35088416)
      Do you really think that all US dollars that are in circulation have physical representation? We are already paying with virtual money that is nothing more than a number written in a database field somewhere in [insert name of your bank here] servers.
      • by Locke2005 (849178)
        The US dollar is not backed by a gold standard, but rather by "the full faith and credit of the U. S. government". Online game tokens are backed by the full faith and credit of the game's marketing department. You tell me which is more reliable.
    • That's a common myth: gold-backed currency has "real value" and fiat currency has no "real value". The thing is: money serves as an exchange medium of value. Since the usefulness (or value) of gold (or just about anything else physical) depends on many factors, the only sane option is fiat.

      Here is an example: how much of your work is one ounce of gold worth? The most certain amount could be construed by the work you would have to spend to mine and smelt it. Possibly as much as gold is worth to you

      • by nedlohs (1335013)

        It's not a "common myth", you're just ignoring what "real value" means in that context.

        Can arbitrary amounts of the currency be created out of thin air? If so it has no "real value", if not it has "real value".

        And yes, there's no need for a currency to have "real value" as long as people are willing to use as an exchange medium. A currency with nothing restricting its creation has a higher chance of people deciding not to be willing than one that does though.

        • by Peeteriz (821290)

          On the other hand, having "real value" is not nearly enough or sufficient for something to be useful as currency - say, both gasoline and iPads have 'real value'.

          So, as currency doesn't imply 'real value', and 'real value' doesn't imply currency, they are orthogonal, mostly unrelated concepts, so it's not of much use to use them in the same sentence - money is money and that's it, and stuff with 'real value' is something completely different.

      • > That's a common myth: gold-backed currency has "real value" and fiat currency has no "real value".

        That's because people don't understand (hyper) inflation or what causes it.
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zimbabwean_dollar [wikipedia.org]

        > The thing is: money serves as an exchange medium of value.

        Ok, you understand the first meaning of money ...

        > Since the usefulness (or value) of gold (or just about anything else physical) depends on many factors, the only sane option is fiat.
        ... but not the 2nd or 3rd meaning.

        W

        • {Post got cut off}

          Until we either have 1 global currancy, or people actually learn the 2nd and 3rd meaning of money, we will have this nonsense of poverty, inflation, and people arguing over multiple meanings of the SAME DOLLAR ammount.

        • I am quite surprised that you are refuting my thesis by refering to a text that says exactly the same as me. Currency is not a means of storage of value or measure of value (I assume that those are the mysterious "2nd and 3rd meanings" you talk about). Storage of value is the same as having a defered exchange. For example: "I give you one pound of meat today for an iPod in a year" is the same as "I am selling you this meat for X simoleons and next year I buy an iPod for X simoleons". Measure of value is

    • by Peeteriz (821290)

      Most of money supply for major currencies (say, US dollars or Euro) is virtual - there aren't nearly as much physical cash banknotes as the money in circulation, as most of money is not issued by Federal reserve or central banks of other countries not by running a printing press, but by lending it in the electronic money transfer system.

      If you somehow change a number in a database system holding your personal bank account in Bank of America or whatever other bank, there is no more record of it than the data

    • by Eivind (15695)

      Nah. Most dollars only exist as numbers in a database somewhere too. Sure, a small fraction exists as physical bills, but that's a tiny fraction.

  • This remind me of "Halting State" by Charles Stross. Story starts with a bank robbery in a virtual game, with real business impact. Excellent novel.

    • Thank you for the reminder to read that book, I read Accelerando a few months ago and ended up on a William Gibson binge after which had yet to return me to this section of my book shelf.
    • by jurgenaut (910416)
      It's an interesting book indeed. Also one of the few stories told from a second person perspective. It's not as bad as it sounds.
  • I'm curious (Score:5, Interesting)

    by goose-incarnated (1145029) <lelanthran@gma[ ]com ['il.' in gap]> on Thursday February 03, 2011 @04:30AM (#35088420) Homepage Journal
    What exactly can one do with Zynga Poker chips, even if you won them legitimately? Can they be exchanged for cash and/or prizes?
    • Had to make it to the 2nd sentence: "Sold legitimately through Zynga, the full amount of chips would have brought in some $12 million."
      • by Yaos (804128)
        Just think if had stolen a billion chips, or 1 trillion! Can their servers handle that many 0s? I heard there's a usage based billing on zeros this days from the keyboard makers.
    • by Yaos (804128)
      You can use them to make your fake dollar amount go up.
    • by Locke2005 (849178)
      Zynga Poker chips are yet another metric for measuring the length of your ePeen...
  • Well I think that it's ironic, considering that Zynga steal from everyone else.

    • by Locke2005 (849178)
      Yeah, I hate it when they put a gun to my head and force me to play!
      • by scot4875 (542869)

        I believe that GP is referring to Zynga shamelessly making blatant copies of other people's games. Then, on top of that, using their already-established base of players to build up a userbase for the new game (e.g. "Molly's building a new burlesque house in WhoreVille and needs 5 silk stockings! Go play our new game Sweat Shop Hero to make some stockings for her!")

        --Jeremy

  • If Zynga were to go bankrupt, or change their service in such a way that significantly modified the value of their currency I think their argument about just how "REAL" it really is would change quite a bit. It's only a matter of time before something terrible happens with one of these online currencies and the feds have to step in an regulate. And by regulate, I mean ban outright.
    • You seem to have misspelled "tax heavily" there. Because if there's one thing any congressman who actually wants to balance the budget needs, it's something new that they can get tax money from.

  • I thought I read the heading as real chips were stolen then being sold, but now that I see they are just virtual chips...I imagin you can just trace them back and delete them and start over.

    • by Locke2005 (849178)
      Either the chips have value and he is guilty of theft, or the chips have no value and he is guilty of fraud for selling them.
  • Evans admitted that valuing virtual currency can be difficult and that the company was not actually deprived of tangible goods, but he said that the theft could still affect the developer by indirectly causing legitimate online gamers to stop playing Zynga Poker or its other games.

    ...So, what you're saying is that we should give the "thief" a medal?

    Rob

  • trying to understand this one. Stealing virtual money (chips) from a virtual world does not make it a virtual crime. I hope the judge is some old guy that can't even comprehend virtual worlds. If anything this should make for an interesting trial.
    • by Shimbo (100005)

      If anything this should make for an interesting trial.

      Not really, because the defendant pleaded guilty.

  • How is this really any different from, say, exploiting a dupe bug in a MMOG? That sort of thing has been done before, but most people would consider being banned from the game to be an appropriate punishment. Why does this case escalate to the level of criminal charges of fraud?

    • Because Zynga (for now), just like Facebook, has the clout to throw its weight around and manipulate the law to serve as its private enforcement arm.
    • by nedlohs (1335013)

      He broke the law by "hacking" their computer system. And then when he sold the results of that he's now converting criminal property and hence gets done for that too.

      Exploiting a dupe bug in an MMO and sell the resulting items is different because you haven't committed the initial criminal act and hence the sale isn't converting criminal property and so neither charge can apply. If you hacked into the WoW database server and gave yourself items that way, then it would be the same situation and you'd have so

    • by Tim C (15259)

      Assuming he hacked/cracked into their servers (and TFA certainly implies it), that's a crime under the Computer Misuse Act here in the UK so he can potentially do gaol time just for that.

    • by Peeteriz (821290)

      It's very simple - just the same as cracking any other system to get some service for free that's usually sold for $x.

      Unauthorised acccess / cracking of computer systems with direct losses = crime.

      Reselling the service (chip counters in a virtual poker game) for financial gain = aggravating circumstances.

      If you defrauded a $1000 per haircut hairdresser into giving his services w/o paying, the court will bill you $1000 - nobody cares how valuable the service is in your mind.

      Regarding your example with dupe

  • "but he said that the theft could still affect the developer by indirectly causing legitimate online gamers to stop playing Zynga Poker or its other games."

    Zynga never had any legitimate online gamers.

  • "...the theft could still affect the developer by indirectly causing legitimate online gamers to stop playing Zynga Poker or its other games."

    You say that as if you think that's a BAD thing!

The greatest productive force is human selfishness. -- Robert Heinlein

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