From #SL Griefing to Extortion

This article got way longer than I intended. Even after I went back and did a trim pass to reduce the size. But, I did not want to write another piece on griefing that didn’t place a new perspective on the subject. Griefing is advancing and getting more sophisticated and dangerous. I’ve pointed out those dangers and possible defenses. Also, anti-griefers are starting to become self-righteous griefers abusing others in the name of fighting griefers. It is a mess.

Crying Leo by storyvillegirl on Flickr

Crying Leo by storyvillegirl on Flickr

In RL we see the same mess with Pro-Life and Pro-Choice people. The idiots on one side kill doctors that perform abortions. The idiots on the other side try to force people with religious objections to pay for abortions. Both are insane and display disregard for their ‘stated’ principals. Getting the rational people on both sides to work it out is the only solution.

In recent months griefing has progressed to include extortion. Extortion is a RL crime. Griefing in Second Life™, particularly in the SL fashion industry, has been a part of the drama of SL. Griefing via extortion is probably only a new-to-some-of-us thing. The old song the Lab does nothing continues and is lame now as it always has been.

The basic griefing is copyboting and region crashing and general anti-social behavior. The Associated SL Press published an article in September titled: Protecting Your Event Against Griefers. Event managers have been and are complaining they are being extorted. Pay up or be crashed.

Griefers have to be in the region with you to do much of anything other than spamming. So, for now the basic advice is to have access to events be invitation only. The region an event is to have access closed to a white list. If you are not on the ‘access’ list, you cannot get in. That effectively stops the griefers… or so it is said. Griefers can still spam people from outside a region, but muting stops individual spamming.

If you think that closed event thing is a poor solution to the problem, I agree with you. Doing invitation only events removes the spontaneity and I suspect reduces attendance by a huge factor. Controlling access is also usually very labor intense, which means added cost.

While I think it is less than an ideal solution it is effective. I think limiting access to those with payment information on file is easier. I’m not sure how much more effective it is or isn’t. I think it would be pretty effective… and way less labor intense.


Estate Management Tools

Estate Management Tools

Top menu: World-> Region/Estate-> Estate (tab).

A problem new to me is extorting event managers with pay-me-or-I-will-crash-your-region. Rumor is BOSL was threatened with crashes if they did not pay L$65,000 (US$250±). BOSL went to work to find out how to stop the griefer and effectively has by controlling access.

What to do?

Paying a griefer or acknowledging them is just feeding the animals. It encourages them and assures their return.

Stopping griefing is a frustrating task. The basic process is to Abuse Report the griefer. But, since the Lab will not comment on Abuse Report actions, one does not get feedback. Also, griefers seem to keep coming back.  With free accounts that is possible. Without knowing what is happening it tends to be frustrating. One likes to see some action or reaction from one’s efforts.

With extortion the Lab is caught in a he said she said. While I might file a claim of extortion with the Lab, what real evidence to do I have? A chat log? A recording of a voice conversation? An email? Those can all be faked easily. If you can file a ‘real’ complaint what is to stop a griefer from filing a ‘false’ complaint?

So, the Lab has to start investigating and sorting through millions of chat logs to find the truth. Some Lindens have said if they did not waste so much time countering griefers they could do so much more to improve Second Life. I believe that is true.

In RL extortion is illegal. It is a local crime. The activist designers ranting at user group meetings think the FBI is going handle in-game extortion. But, in an international ‘game’ how does one get local law enforcement interested in prosecuting an international case against someone in a country other than their own that can only be identified as an avatar in a computer game? Why try to prosecute someone extorting US$250 that it will cost thousands just to find when RL homes are broken into, organized gangs are dealing drugs to school children, and rapist and molesters or loose in the communities?  Get real, put some perspective on things.

The FBI won’t even look at computer crimes that result in less than about US$250,000 damages. There are more computer crimes over that amount than they can get to now. (Reference: 2011 Computer Crime Report – PDF) How much less likely is it your local, understaffed, and busy local law enforcement will be concerned about $250? Especially when you consider it will likely cost the community hundreds of thousands of dollars to prosecute a possible international case? It just does not make economic sense.

Micro Transactions

We are seeing more and more micro financial transactions think Linden and other game dollars. The problem is the world has yet to figure out how to police them. If someone can steal a penny (US$0.01) from 100,000 people in SL that is $1,000 and 100,000 annoyed people spread across the world. But, if you were one of those people would you want to spend even $10 to get your penny back?

Law enforcement in RL just does not work well in the realm of micro transactions. Very simply law enforcement doesn’t have the knowledge, time, or money and no one wants to pay for micro transaction law enforcement. Yet, we all – I think all, want something to be done. Letting it continue doesn’t seem workable or just. 

9 thoughts on “From #SL Griefing to Extortion

  1. I LOVED your article and read it completely. I would like you to suggest someday to write a bit more about protecting our works. For example, how to fill copyrights to register mesh and textures with a bit more of detail, how to write licenses to sell mesh in SL (some people ask for custom meshes in SL that they later want to sell in website like TurboSquid!) and others ways to protect us. Maybe saving images of our projects WIP on some image hosting like someone suggested to me some ago, etc…

    BTW I would like to know your most sincere opinion about this idea. Long time ago some friends and me were talking about copybot and this kind of problems and how easy is to use some simple debuggers. Then it comes to my mind the way that some online games have to protect the game code for being injected from others processes.

    So, what if Second Life stopped being Open Source again, and those who want develop a viewer they can do it requesting a license? That license would be free and would have similar requirements than being in the Third Party Viewer directory. Each viewer will have an “identification” so others viewer aren’t able to log into the main grid, but into the beta one (this would allow access to everyone who want test or build their own features). Asides of that, SL would run with a third party software protection method. There are some out there used a lot by MMORPG like game guard for example. This kind of process doesn’t allow to debuggers to run within the main game an neither any kind of “hack” that try to inject code into the game.

    So with this we get 2 ways or protect SL:

    – For one side we get the viewer protection. Since each viewer uses a license, no one will be able to connect to the main grid unless it uses the original viewer license which would be quickly traduced in a filtration of the license making it easier to find the one responsible of it.

    – And for the other side, we get software protection making it unable to use any kind of hack to access internal viewer memory (or at least, it could be a way harder to do it). This kind of software runs in background and is often updated to be up to date with the most common ways of intrusions.

    I recognize that changing from being Open Source to this kind of license may be a big change and I am not so used to this kind of changes and what would implies for LL. But so far I think it adds great measures of protection for everyone that at least will make harder for [less knowledgeable] people to steal a simple texture.

    Thanks again for your article and hope to see soon some more info about protecting our works 😉


    • I have thought about writing more on protecting creative works. I may. I have two tutorials on other parts of building for SL in process now.

      Discontinuing Open Source viewers… I think that is a bad idea. It would have some advantages, but protecting digital Intellectual Property (IP) is not one of them. The entertainment industry has tried for decades to protect music and movies. Every idea they have come up with has been cracked. I think that route is a dead end always leading to failure. If a computer is used to protect it, and a computer has to remove protection to display it… then someone will figure out how it is done.

      • I know may not be perfect. But trust me, thirdparty software running on background as gameguard and such really works. Ive tested by myself, is impossible to use any kind of “hack” tool on them. They are very sensitive and even others harmless process may be conflictive. So everything that try to acess to the main game is always restricted and in consecuence the game doesnt connect to internet and doesnt work. The game may not be to stop being OpenSource, there are still ways to implement thos softwares. I really think we should get at least something similar to that, they are really effective, almost impossible to hack, and they are updated daily like antivirus does. I think that limits in a 2% the possiblities to hack things like textures and meshes.

        And thanks for your answer. Looking forward for those tips to protect our content 😉 ♥

  2. I really think there is only one good solution to the issue of griefing and that is to require accounts have unique payment information on file. Accounts with no payment information on file need to be restricted, and used as test accounts. If I were to setup those accounts I would make two changes 1) require that those accounts only log in with the default LL viewer, and 2) remove the ability for those accounts to hold any inventory. No freebies, nothing received from others, nothing. It is the ability to create sooooo many accounts, and make the truly anonymous that makes griefing so easy. Blocking an account is meaningless because the griefer will have a new account minutes later, and the griefer has an account already that he never griefs with that just holds all the tools he needs to grief. So its a simple invetory swap to be back up and running. What LL needs to be blocking is any account created with a specific payment method.

    In my opinion until the ability to create these accounts is gone, the griefers will never be.

    • The problem with imposing such restrictions is that you throw out other use cases in Second Life, such as educators, whom aren’t going to register all their students with payment info on file and nor should they need to.

      Then we have alts for testing purposes, although this could be somewhat mitigated if we had one account, multiple avatars, rather than one account per avatar.

      Let’s also not forget that a reason people engage with Second Life is because they can get started for free, if we take that away, we’ll lose a lot of interest at registration.

    • That would reduce SL population to at 20% my friend.

      The key of a solution is to everyone gets benefit from it harming the less possible the rest of users or even LL.

      There are also others problems with that. SL would be then restricted to some countries and ages. Not everyone can afford or even have the rights to get a credit card for the PIOF. So that idea is a bit extreme.

  3. Pingback: What's this about extortion? - Page 4 - SLUniverse Forums

  4. Oh, this is a real well thought article, thank You 🙂

    Maybe our view could be widen even more.
    griefing has for sure an increasing economical aspect, on which ppl with reason and desire love to talk.
    There are also other dimensions. Some could just seen as annoying, some as harassing.
    It’s indeed really ‘annoying’ to sail peaceful somewhere and get hit by a wave of griefing ghoul particles.
    But will giving up privacy stopping this?
    do not believe that.

    Trading privacy for the hope on less griefing will never the smart answer. Sorry but, as You Nalates said the problem is far more complex.

    central collected privacy information can not be handled so safe that i will start giving LL mine and i were ok with that the last 6 years on SL.

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