My wife alerted me to the March 2007 Chicago Tribune article “Cheating a real problem in Club Penguin’s virtual world” as we discussed ideas for tomorrow’s “family Sunday school lesson” we’re co-teaching about the Biblical story of Jacob and Essau. I thought I was pretty up to speed on Club Penguin, but apparently I’m behind the times. According to the article:
Across the Internet, blogs, message boards and even video clips on YouTube.com offer preteens tips and tricks on how to steal coins at ClubPenguin.com or cheat their way to a higher salary at Whyville.net. A simple Google search pops up hundreds of places to find such insights. Over the last three months, cheating has become such a concern at Club Penguin that on Tuesday the Canadian company approved new guidelines banning the practice, said Lane Merrifield, co-founder and chief executive.
I think this article may be yet another example of the mainstream press focusing on the bad and ignoring the good when it comes to digital social networking. Has the Chicago Tribune run articles on the engaging fun and safe digital social networking available on sites like Club Penguin? If so, I haven’t read them yet. The issues they raise ARE real, however, and worth exploring in greater depth.
I performed a domain specific search for clubpenguin.com on Google this evening for the word ‘cheating’ and didn’t turn up any results. Similar searches for the words “hack” and “hacking” also turned up zilch. I couldn’t find cheating specifically addressed in any of the HELP or PARENTS OF PENGUINS pages of the site either. If ClubPenguin still has a formal policy about cheating and hacking, apparently it is not listed on the main site available to the public without a login.
Screencasts about ClubPenguin are definitely plentiful on YouTube. Keyword searches on YouTube for “club penguin cheats” and “club penguin hack” turn up 639 and 798 different videos each, respectively. This video, viewed over 4000 times with 35 comments, shows how to use “Cheat Engine 5.3″ (for Windows computers only, it appears) to hack Club Penguin and illegally (in violation of the AUP I assume) obtain more coins for your Penguin when playing games. The screencast (apparently edited with Windows Moviemaker, judging by the titling) suggests “Cheat Engine 5.3″ instead of “Winsock Packet Editor (WPE) Pro,” which is mentioned in the Chicago Tribute article, because evidently the vigilant Club Penguin programmers have figured out how to defeat WPE. According to the WPE website the program:
…is a packet sniffing/editing tool which is generally used to hack multiplayer games. WPE Pro allows modification of data at TCP level. Using WPE Pro one can select a running process from the memory and modify the data sent by it before it reaches the destination. It can record packets from specific processes, then analyze the information. You can setup filters to modify the packets or even send them when you want in different intervals. WPE Pro could also be a useful tool for testing thick client applications or web applications which use applets to establish socket connections on non http ports.
Apparently the program can also be helpful for dishonest gamers who want to hack online games. Good grief. How sad the creative people at Club Penguin are having to deal with unethical behavior like this. Whenever you hear or read the term packet sniffer, it’s probably a good idea to pay attention and ask more questions. While there are licit and legitimate uses for these tools to test and monitor software, hardware and networks, often packet sniffers are used for malicious and unethical purposes. At the university where I worked previously, the IT department used an intrusion detection system which could immediately detect when an unauthorized packet sniffer was being used on the network, and then shut down the port the person was using to access the network. That sort of functionality is not even being discussed by most school district technology departments I work with now, but it should be. Not all solutions offering intrusion detection are expensive, SNORT is open-source and VERY capable.
I suppose we should acknowledge the creative skills and saavy knowledge-base which is being applied in these screencast videos about hacking Club Penguin. Like email spam and blog spam, however, I personally wish there was more encouragement for people with these formidable technology skills to apply them in constructive versus destructive ways. (Become white hats versus black hats.) A cursory read of some tutorials available for hacking online games (like this one posted on a forum of Cheat Engine about Club Penguin) reveals a GREAT deal of troubleshooting and programming is going on among users in this demographic. Many if not most are likely script kiddies, but among the users clearly there are some smart people doing some real hacking that takes know-how and skills.
Another example of a Club Penguin hacking screencast is the YouTube video “Club Penguin coin hack,” which has been viewed over 53,000 times. It shows a screencast of a penguin whose user utilizes the aforementioned WPE packet sniffer and manipulator program to earn thousands of coins in my own son’s favorite game in Club Penguin, “Cart Surfer.” Of course the penguin does this after changing his wardrobe into black, “secret agent” style apparel. Cute and funny, but unethical hacking none-the-less. I’m going to use this to introduce our lesson on Jacob and Essau tomorrow morning. (Thank you Unplug.)
What are the lessons and takeaways from this story? Well, if your own children or students have installed and use the WPE program on your (or their) Windows-based computer, you might strike up a conversation about how and why they are using it. More reasons for ongoing digital dialog.
We can’t just ban young people from using the Internet, we have an obligation to regularly engage in conversations with them about what they are doing online and why they are doing those things. Are they putting themselves at risk by talking about sex with strangers online? Are they using unethical (and possibly illegal, depending on the network they are using) means to cheat in online games? Or are they simply spending an inordinate amount of time in front of a digital screen, when they should be playing outside more, riding their bicycle, finding frogs in the neighborhood, or building a treehouse? All important questions to ask and answer.
Remember to follow Wesley Fryer on Twitter (@wfryer), Facebook and Google+. Also "like" Wesley's Facebook pages for "Speed of Creativity Learning" and his eBook, "Playing with Media." Don't miss Wesley's latest technology integration project, "Mapping Media to the Common Core / Curriculum."
On this day..
- #Playingwithmedia: a continuation of learning - 2012
- OLPC 2012 Tablet Video and more from San Antonio this week - 2010
- Turning Point Ministries on Flickr - 2009
- First DimDim online meeting: Debriefing Celebrate Oklahoma Voices Summer09 Workshops - 2009
- Download FireFox 3.0! - 2008
- links for 2008-06-17 - 2008
- Podcast258: Trends, Tools, and Tactics for 21st Century Learning by Kevin Honeycutt - 2008
- Tornado last week in my hometown - Manhattan, Kansas - 2008
- The conversation is open - 2007
- Father's Day Tribute - 2007