Activision unveils Ricochet anti-cheat system for Call of Duty

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Activision unveiled its Ricochet anti-cheat system for Call of Duty games as it tries to attack a longstanding cheating problem that has frustrated a lot of players.

The new system will get rid of players cheating in Call of Duty: Warzone later this year and it will debut with Call of Duty: Vanguard, the new premium game coming on multiple platforms on November 5. Activision, whose parent company Activision Blizzard has been sued for having an alleged toxic culture of its own, said in its announcement that cheating in Call of Duty is frustrating for players, developers, and the entire
community.

The anti-cheat team has made great strides in fighting this persistent issue that affects so many, but the company said it knows more must be done. Ricochet is supported by a team of dedicated professionals focused on fighting unfair play.

The Ricochet anti-cheat initiative is a multi-faceted approach to combat cheating, featuring new server-side tools which monitor analytics to identify cheating, enhanced investigation processes to stamp out cheaters, updates to strengthen account security, and more. Ricochet’s backend anti-cheat security features will launch alongside Call of Duty: Vanguard, and later this year with the Pacific update coming to Call of Duty: Warzone.

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In addition to server enhancements coming with Ricochet is a new PC kernel-level driver, developed internally for the Call of Duty franchise, and launching first for Call of Duty: Warzone. This driver will assist in the identification of cheaters, reinforcing and strengthening the overall server security. The kernel-level driver launches alongside the Pacific update for Warzone later this year.

Diving on what will later be the dam in 1984 Verdansk in Warzone.

Above: Diving on what will later be the dam in 1984 Verdansk in Warzone.

Image Credit: Activision

While the kernel driver, which is only a part of Ricochet Anti-Cheat, will release to PC, by extension, console players playing via cross-play against players on PC will also stand to benefit. The kernel-level driver will subsequently release for Call of Duty: Vanguard at a later date.

Kernel-level drivers have been controversial. The kernel is the highest level in the Windows operating system, and gaining access to it is a serious matter. Experts at Riot Games talked about it in our recent webinar with Irdeto by Denuvo. (We’ll be discussing these topics and more in a panel with security firm Irdeto by Denuvo at our GamesBeat Summit Next online event on November 9-10.)

To entrust a developer with access to the kernel says a lot, since even a small mistake in the code on that level could brick a system. But kernel-level drivers are given a high level of access to monitor and manage software and applications on a PC, such as your PC’s graphics card driver. The driver element of the Ricochet Anti-Cheat system will check the software and applications that attempt to interact and manipulate Call of Duty: Warzone, providing the overall security team more data to bolster security. Once the kernel-level driver is deployed; it will be required to play Warzone.

Bad actors would also love to get access to the kernel, as they could use it to spy on users. But giving access to kernel-level protection means that a developer can ban a cheating player and then prevent that player from simply creating a new account and cheating again. That has been the curse of Warzone, where the developers have banned hundreds of thousands of players. I have seen a number of people quit the game because of the rampant cheating.

Wraith is a new Operator in Season Three for Call of Duty.

Above: Wraith is a new Operator in Season Three for Call of Duty.

Image Credit: Activision

I know because I happened to get paired with a cheater in a Warzone match. He could clearly see where the enemies were, even if they were hiding behind walls, and he racked up 61 kills (out of a total of around 150 human players in the match) in the round. I reported him and he was banned. But I would guess that nothing could have prevented him from just logging in again from another account. That’s where this kernel-level protection comes in. In some replays, players have shown how another player keeps making incredible headshots every time or sees through walls and shoots players who shouldn’t be visible.

Activision said that the kernel-level driver is not always on. It turns on when you start Call of Duty: Warzone and shuts down when you close the game. It notifies the team when it detects suspicious behavior. Plus, the kernel-level driver only monitors and reports activity related to Call of Duty. You have to trust Activision on that, and given their history and their size I would say I am willing to do that.

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Activision said that players are also a critical part of stopping cheating. It said to continue to report issues in-game, allowing the security team to adapt all tools to combat cheaters. Testing for the new driver has been done to ensure system stability across a large range of PCs.

Another layer in the battle against cheaters is the evolving use of machine learning (ML). ML algorithms examine gameplay data from the server, helping to identify suspicious behavior trends and add another layer of security as part of the overall Ricochet initiative.

Activision recommends that players protect their accounts with two-factor authentication, where you could use something like text messages to your phone to verify a login on the PC. The company said it will keep everyone informed of how it’s working in the pursuit of fair play.

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