"STD-like" virus killing off Borderlands 2 video game characters

Filed Under: Featured, Malware, Vulnerability

Gearbox Studios, the maker of the popular game Borderlands 2, is warning Xbox 360 users to be careful of who they play with, following a rash of reports of unexplained character deaths.

The culprit? A software flaw that appears to be spreading, STD-like, from Borderlands 2 "modders" to other law-abiding gamers they play with.

Borderlands 2

The company acknowledged the attacks on Friday, saying that "a few users" were "using an external application" to "maliciously disrupt" the game and "sabotage characters of legitimate Borderlands 2 players on Xbox 360," according to a message posted by Gearbox community manager Chris Faylor in the game's user forum.

Faylor said Gearbox has submitted an update to Microsoft to correct the problem.

Gearbox statement

The vulnerability in question appears to stem from a secret option within Borderlands that allows users to "mod" (or modify) their characters: attaining skill levels beyond what they've earned (or even what's technically allowed by the game) as well as special weapons and armor.

User accounts describe an option, variously described as "badass mode," "hardcore mode" and "IsBadassModeSaveGame" that players who have modified their characters can enable using modding software like Gibbed's Save Editor.

According to user accounts, the option causes Borderlands 2 characters for whom the option is enabled to be deleted when they die.

More concerning: Borderlands 2 players who play alongside a player who has enabled this feature inherit it, as well, in their user profile - regardless of whether their character has been "mod-ed" or interacted directly with a modded user or modded gear.

Messages in Gearbox forums describe a variety of problems after playing in group games with players who appeared to have "mod-ed" their characters. The problems include having character data deleted and characters killed off permanently once they die, rather than reappearing ("respawning") within the game.

Borderlands 2

"It's like an STD, it is not just who you play with but everyone those players have played with," wrote a user with the handle Ryz866. "Even if you never joined a modder, if someone you played with has or someone they played with...you still get the setting saved in your data unfortunately."

It was unclear, Monday, whether the rumors of a link between the "Badass" mode option and the character deaths were related. However, this isn't the first time that Gearbox has encountered problems with Borderlands linked to "modding."

In 2009, users of the first Borderlands release were infected with a virus linked to shields within the game variously referred to as "glitches" shields or "marcus bobblehead" shields.

The infected items would make players invincible and drop loads of in-game cash into their accounts, but couldn't be disposed of. It spread like a virus within a game, infecting players who encountered an infected player.

Hacks on gaming platforms are becoming more common.

Last week, a group of hardware hackers calling themselves the "Three Musketeers" released a tool, the Level Zero (LV0) loader that allows modders to circumvent cryptographic protections that limit what kind of software can be run on PS3 devices.

In recent weeks, security companies have noted a mass kill-off in the massively multiplayer game World of Warcraft and alerted users of Google's Chrome browser of adware masquerading as a version of Rovio's new Bad Piggies.

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10 Responses to "STD-like" virus killing off Borderlands 2 video game characters

  1. Robert Gracie · 1072 days ago

    Microsoft is going to ban those modders from Xbox live once Gearbox gets in touch with them

  2. Nome · 1072 days ago

    Ahhhh... Ghost in the Shell?!?! :O

  3. anon · 1071 days ago

    There is nothing 'STD-like" about this. It's simply "virus like".

    There is no Sex involved in spreading it, so it can't be a "Sexually Transmitted Disease"

  4. Hiro Protagonist · 1068 days ago

    Say no to Snow Crash, kids. :)

  5. roy jones jr · 1065 days ago

    Its NOIS, (No one is safe) plain and simple.

  6. freddy fingers · 1064 days ago

    the world is full of lazy ass losers looking to take the easy train. there is no free ride and no easy way out,,,,,,,, but a early death,

    i plan on modding and will continue to mod. but my mods are anti mods, and when i figure it out how..... i will destroy accounts one by one till the world is clean andrid of these game changing loosers. makes it totally not worth playing,

  7. if i mod its only for backpack and bank slots, ive never seen the point in modding weapons and shields, kinda takes the fun out of everything if you have an invincible shield or a 1 hit kill weapon...def not good to use those things in multiplayer cuz 1. theres no fun, 2. it takes away the point of dueling, 3. its just poor sportsmanship...modding is only cool if you want to do that with your friends, but to ruin another players gaming exp just to look like a douchebag isnt cool by any means...

    • MoFro · 1022 days ago

      I agree with this. I modded Borderlands 1 only for the backpack (and to redo a mission that I couldn't finish because of a glitch). I wish I could do the same for Borderlands 2. A maxed out backpack of only 27 is FAR too little for a game that has so much stuff. I mean there is 8 types of weapons with 5 different elements alone not counting other add ons for your character. It matters a LOT because you need the different types of weapons for different situations.

  8. Josh · 1017 days ago

    If only anything that was said on this page , including most of the responses, wasn't pure undiluted garbage... imagine how interested i could have been.

  9. Anonymous · 228 days ago

    That's BS. These "hacks" should not kill off the character under normal circumstances. The actual character deletion has to be intentional, most likely code in Borderlands 2 that specifically checks for these mods, then deletes the characters. Gearbox just doesn't want to admit to sabotaging modders.

    Basically when the character is killed, Borderlands 2 checks level/stats/skills/etc. to see if it goes above vanilla values. This is the only explanation for it.

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About the author

Paul is a Boston-based reporter and industry analyst with more than a decade of experience covering the IT industry, cyber security and hacking. His work has appeared on threatpost.com, The Boston Globe, salon.com, NPR's Marketplace, Fortune Small Business, as well as industry publications including ZDNet, Computerworld, InfoWorld, eWeek, CIO , CSO and ITWorld.com. Paul got his 15 minutes as an expert guest on The Oprah Show - but that's a long story.