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Beware Of The Game Guard

by: Brian Healy ; edited by: Michael Hartman ; updated: 4/17/2012 • Leave a comment

When playing games online, many game servers run dedicated anti-cheat software in order to try to make the game fairer for all concerned. However, for other games, anti-cheat software makes up part of the game package and one in particular is very intrusive: Inca Software's Game Guard.

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    No-one likes someone who cheats while playing games online, and for many players, having a player cheating during a game is enough to spoil everyone's fun and can sour the online gaming experience.

    Cheating in online games is nothing new; Counter-Strike, for example, was blighted on many public servers by players using cheats such as Aimbot (which automatically aimed the player's crosshair onto an opponent), Wallhack (which allowed players to see through walls) and a host of other applications and codes designed to give unscrupulous players an unfair advantage. To combat this, some server operators began running anti-cheat software on their servers.

    I'm all for an application that levels the playing field, but I draw the line at software which attempts to intrude itself onto my PC to a level where the game is unplayable. After my son downloaded a game called 'Shaiya' I discovered first-hand the lengths Inca Software's Game Guard program went to try and wreck my PC.

    The game 'Shaiya' comes bundled with the Game Guard client, which is designed to be an anti-cheat program. 'Shaiya', as it turned out, wouldn't run at all on my PC due to my security software, and after much digging around on the World Wide Web, I discovered the cause: not 'Shaiya' nor my security software, but Game Guard was to blame, with users of other security suites reporting similar issues with games which feature Game Guard's anti-piracy software.

    The problem I had was the re-booting of my PC whenever my son tried to run the 'Shaiya' game. My research turned up the fact that essentially the way Game Guard operates is to disable the security software (in my case, Comodo's Firewall Pro). Because my firewall saw Game Guard's attempt to close it down as a hostile attack, perhaps as a virus or trojan, it struck back at Game Guard causing both to crash and the PC to reboot.

    Because of the way Game Guard installs itself, it is similar to a 'rootkit' – an item or collection of software programs designed to take control of a PC. Game Guard installs and cloaks itself by attaching almost virus-like to legitimate Windows processes. It installs a virtual device driver and .dll files and there is no apparent way to remove the software once installed. As a 'stand alone' product, even removing the game from the system doesn't uninstall the Game Guard software, leaving behind several hidden files. Even clicking 'Uninstall' via Windows Device Manager fails to remove it.

    To add insult to injury, some recent versions of Game Guard failed to close down properly when a game which used its anti-cheat engine was ended. It would continue to use the PC's RAM and resources, injecting itself into running processes without the knowledge of the user. Even in Windows Task Manager, Game Guard doesn't show itself as a running process, and it masks its huge CPU outlay by hooking into legitimate Windows components.

    Game Guard is a feature of many free online games available on the web, so if you plan on playing any, it's a good idea to check first that Game Guard isn't part of the software. You can find a list of games which use Game Guard on wikipedia's entry for the software. If you have already been unfortunate enough to have Game Guard leech into your system, there is some good news: Game Guard can be uninstalled, although it isn't easy to do so. If you need or want to uninstall, read my article on how to uninstall Game Guard.

    The simplest solution is to not play games which feature Game Guard as part of its application. You might end up disappointed, but prevention is better than cure and you'll thank yourself in the long-run!