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Grand Theft Auto Leak Likely Shows Perils of Social Engineering Hack

The release of hacked footage from a future version of one of the most successful video game franchises in history set the gamer world ablaze over the weekend. Grand Theft Auto developer Rockstar Games confirmed via Twitter that their network had been compromised.

“We recently suffered a network intrusion,” their tweet said, “in which an unauthorized third party illegally accessed and downloaded confidential information from our systems…”

A user called “teapotuberhacker” released more than 90 videos and images in online forums devoted to the Grand Theft Auto video game. The hacker said they have more information, including source code, and requested Rockstar executives begin negotiations or they would release more.

Grand Theft Auto 5 sold more than 170 million copies after its release almost 10 years ago, and excitement for the next iteration of the franchise has been building for years. The sixth version, currently in development, is not expected to be released until 2024 or 2025. Rockstar said the hack will not delay or have any adverse effect on the game’s development.

The same hacker also claimed credit for the Uber breach from late last week. In that attack, Uber said a contractor was compromised when a hacker affiliated with Lapsus$ obtained the contractor’s Uber password on the Dark Web after the contractor’s personal device had been compromised with malware. From there, the hacker used social engineering to gain access to employee accounts, including the use of utilities including G-Suite and Slack.

The Rockstar Games hacker also claims to have infiltrated the company’s Slack utility, which Rockstar has neither confirmed nor denied.

Uber said the breach did not compromise any personal data, such as credit cards or trip history.

According to Ben Lindburgh, a reporter for the popular culture analysis and opinion website The Ringer, the theft of intellectual property from Rockstar Games is also less damaging than the publicity level that has resulted from the hack. He wrote:

For fans of GTA [Grand Theft Auto] who’ve spent two console generations anticipating the next mainline title in one of the medium’s most famous franchises, seeing the first tangible evidence of GTA VI’s existence was as wondrous as spotting Bigfoot on Mount Chiliad. The notoriously secretive Rockstar didn’t confirm that the next GTA was in progress until this past February, and it still hasn’t announced the game’s title or release date, forcing analysts to parse Rockstar parent company Take-Two Interactive’s financial disclosures for clues about timing. …

Given the scope of the leak, the fame of the game, and the years of Rockstar radio silence surrounding the follow-up to the second-best-selling title of all time, the unsanctioned sneak peek was huge news. Yet it was also surprisingly—or perhaps not so surprisingly—underwhelming. …[It] served as a reminder of how inconsequential most major video game leaks have turned out to be.

Unauthorized video game leaks are, indeed, a long-standing part of the industry. The Grand Theft Auto leak wasn’t even the only major unauthorized leak of footage from a game in development this weekend: A user posted footage from Diablo 4, another extremely successful gaming franchise with a new version in development. According to PC Gamer, this footage appeared to be captured video from the Discord video service popular with gamers, and likely did not include compromised systems from Blizzard, the creator of Diablo. “Given the amount of information available in the footage,” including watermarks, PC Gamer wrote, “it likely won't be difficult for Blizzard to identify the specific source of the leak.”

Of particular interest to security professionals—both cyber and  physical—a Forbes article related the Rockstar Games and Uber breaches through the lens of social engineering. It said:

Experts contend that humans still remain the “weakest link” in cybersecurity as they can be easily deceived to click on malicious links or share their login credentials.

Unlike other methods, social engineering is also effective in defeating certain enhanced security measures like one-time passwords and other multifactor authentication methods.

Over the years, social engineering has been a heavy point of interest for Security Management. Peter Warmka’s 2018 piece, “Artful Manipulation,” is still a good explainer article, as is the cautionary tale at the heart of Megan Gates’s “The Cost of a Connection.”

In an article earlier this year, Claire Meyer interviewed Warmka on the topic, and he emphasized the importance of employee training, saying, “Have social engineering as a regular topic of discussion. Ensure employees understand that protecting corporate data is a part of their job, even if they aren’t at work. Providing information on social media, over the phone, and face-to-face should all be done safely.”

Protecting against social engineering has also been featured in several GSX sessions. The online GSX+ in 2020 featured a session on deepfakes and social engineering covered in that year’s GSX Daily, and in 2021 Sara Mosqueda covered a session called “Confessions of a CIA Spy: The Art of Human Hacking.”