Grand Theft Auto: Online, like more or less all multiplayer games, fights to stop cheaters who ruin the experience for other players. Unlike a lot of other multiplayer games, GTA: Online consistently loses that battle. Despite shutting down modders, taking cheat makers to court, and even securing court orders to search cheat makers' homes, GTA: Online remains a "cheater's paradise."
For about 48 hours this week, the cheater's paradise seemed to turn into outright hell for everyone else when game update 1.45 (which consisted entirely of "General fixes for stability and security") unintentionally allowed cheaters to harass other people, even when those players were in single-player modes. Until the exploit was supposedly patched early this morning, it was a vision of a dystopian future where mischievous cheaters could harass you anywhere, even if you avoid online multiplayer games.
One of the first examples we saw came from Twitch streamer SnowieLive, who had a cheater interrupt his stream by kicking him out of his session, claiming to be an administrator with GTA: Online's developer, Rockstar Games. When SnowieLive restarted in singleplayer mode, he started dropping dead the instant the game started. While SnowieLive continued to drop dead for no reason, the troll sent him an in-game chat message—which, again, should be impossible outside of multiplayer modes—taunting, "Ur not safe in singleplayer." Later in the stream, the modder wiped out the bank accounts for SnowieLive's single-player campaign save.
Another streamer, a speedrunner under the name FriendlyBaron, found his speedrun attempts sabotaged by a cheater. The unknown cheater spawned a parked jet into his path, forcing him to run around it and lose precious seconds. In another instance, a cheater unceremoniously killed FriendlyBaron while he was driving a car in single-player mode.
So what's going on here? The most popular way to cheat in GTA: Online is with software known as "mod menus," which give malicious players the power of an administrator using server-side commands to modify a game. According to one such cheat seller, the mod menu enables mischief like giving yourself millions of dollars, shooting bullets that turn into sports cars, or killing anyone online in the same server. One mod also lets users walk around with an air-to-air missile for a dick and a fire axe stuck in their ass.
We're not sure specifically what changed in update 1.45, and Rockstar didn't immediately return a request for comment, but it looks like the October 16 update allowed mod menu users to target their exploits using unique ID codes from the Rockstar Social Club. Once they had a player's ID number, they could use those same server-mod-style exploits against anyone as long as they were logged in. Though Rockstar requires a Social Club login for everyone who owns Grand Theft Auto and the game defaults to staying online at all times, it's possible to go offline to play the single-player story mode. People who want to play with friends, however, will always have to be online. This gives cheaters the power to harass until they decide to turn off the game and go do something else.
As of this morning, players on Twitter and Reddit are reporting that the exploit has been fixed, though it's not clear how; Rockstar hasn't announced any new updates on its support record. For all its successes, the chaos in GTA: Online can be seen as a dire omen for always-online games, showing that shoddy security can totally ruin a game, even for those who aren't interested in multiplayer.