Hackers are breaking into accounts for the massively popular online game Call of Duty: Warzone, and multiple victims complain that Activision, the publisher behind the game, is slow or unresponsive to their requests for help. In some cases, the hackers are then demanding a ransom paid in Bitcoin from the victims in order to return the account.
The news highlights the digital underground around video games, and in particular how valuable Warzone accounts can be. One person who sells cheats also advertises Warzone accounts with rare weapon skins for sale for hundreds of dollars.
"I turned it on one day and my account was logged out and I couldn't sign in with my credentials, so I made a new account because I could not get in contact with Activision support, which I'm so mad about" one victim who goes by the Twitter handle osandy23 told Motherboard.
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In Warzone, players fight to be the last team standing among 150 players. As people play more, they gain experience to unlock new weapons, or fulfill certain challenges that award skins to change how their weapons or characters look. Some of these skins can be particularly time consuming to earn. Players can also purchase skins with an in-game currency, which in turn can be bought with real world money. Activision saw an increase of in-game spending of $596 million earlier this year, with a large chunk of that coming from Warzone, a free addition to Call of Duty: Modern Warfare.
All of this game progress is saved to a player's Activision account, meaning that if they lose control of the account, they essentially lose their character, items, and ranking.
"I definitely had some stuff I spent money on," in the account, osandy23 added.
Motherboard found Twitter is rife with reports from Warzone players complaining about hackers targeting their accounts.
At least for some victims, the hackers took over their Activision account, and then changed the email address the account was linked to.
In the case of someone who goes by the Twitter handle GOHGAMER, the hackers also sent him a Twitter message and email to the address originally linked to the Activision account, demanding payment.
"I definitely had some stuff I spent money on."
"If you wants our helps to prevent to leak ur deta [sic] and information and bank account etc, and help to gets your account back clarity need pay 400$ in below address," the hackers wrote, along with a Bitcoin address.
At time of writing, the Bitcoin address has received a total of 1.2 Bitcoin, or around $12,000 at today's exchange rate. It is not clear if any of these payments are from extorted Warzone players; some of the recent transactions vary between around $20 and $2600 in value.
The hackers did not respond to a request for comment.
Some of the hackers are likely breaking into accounts by testing previously compromised passwords from other websites, a common technique as other breached data is trivial to find online and then use for other means. One of the victims Motherboard spoke to said they use the same password across multiple services.
Another victim said hackers instead targeted their Blizzard account, which was linked to their Activision one, granting the hackers access.
On one online store which sells Warzone cheats and accounts, the seller is advertising accounts that come with the game's hardest to obtain skins already available for $280, as well as "mystery" accounts that could have items unlocked as well for between $30 and $90. The owner of this shop did not respond to a question asking whether these accounts are hacked. The owner previously spoke to Motherboard about how they are selling accounts that come pre-verified with a phone number, making it easier for cheaters to bypass Activision's anti-cheat systems.
Activision has been difficult to communicate with about the issue, according to multiple victims Motherboard spoke to as well as the voluminous posts on Twitter.
"I contacted Activision Support via chat this time and they have no record of my support request I made 10 hours ago, even though I gave them the reference number on the email," GOHGAMER added.
Activision did not respond to a request for comment.
Letting users regain access to their compromised accounts can be an issue for even some of the biggest tech companies in the world. Hackers constantly take over Instagram accounts, sometimes to extort their owners, and victims often find Instagram's support mechanism unhelpful. Instagram introduced changes to how it handles such issues after a wave of complaints.
GOHGAMER added, referring to Activision, "it seems I need to follow up constantly or they will ignore the case. Then they say I'll get a survey to rate the experience after they've done absolutely nothing."