Gabe Newell denies Valve Anti-Cheat tracks your browser history

Addressing recent concerns that its Steam anti-cheat program Valve Anti-Cheat (VAC) is sending users’ browsing history back to the company, co-founder Gabe Newell took to Reddit to calm these fears.

A recent report on Reddit claimed that anti-cheat software used by Valve was allowing the Half-Life 2 and Steam creator to spy on its users’ browsing history.

“Cheat developers have a problem in getting cheaters to actually pay them for all the obvious reasons, so they start creating DRM and anti-cheat code for their cheats,” Newell explained. “These cheats phone home to a DRM server that confirms that a cheater has actually paid to use the cheat.

“VAC checked for the presence of these cheats. If they were detected VAC then checked to see which cheat DRM server was being contacted. This second check was done by looking for a partial match to those (non-web) cheat DRM servers in the DNS cache.

“If found, then hashes of the matching DNS entries were sent to the VAC servers. The match was double checked on our servers and then that client was marked for a future ban. Less than a tenth of one percent of clients triggered the second check. 570 cheaters are being banned as a result.”

Newell also explained that the specific VAC test that sparked the initial concern was pulled after 13 days and is no longer active as cheat creators have already worked around it. Valve’s goal, as Newell put it, “is to make them more expensive for cheaters and cheat creators than the economic benefits they can reasonably expect to gain.”

“VAC is inherently a scary looking piece of software, because it is trying to be obscure, it is going after code that is trying to attack it, and it is sneaky. For most cheat developers, social engineering might be a cheaper way to attack the system than continuing the code arms race, which means that there will be more Reddit posts trying to cast VAC in a sinister light.

“Our response is to make it clear what we were actually doing and why with enough transparency that people can make their own judgements as to whether or not we are trustworthy.”

To sum up, Newell denied the VAC solution sends its users’ Internet history to the company with a short Q&A.

1) Do we send your browsing history to Valve? No.
2) Do we care what porn sites you visit? Oh, dear god, no. My brain just melted.
3) Is Valve using its market success to go evil? I don’t think so, but you have to make the call if we are trustworthy. We try really hard to earn and keep your trust.

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