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A couple of years ago, I got bored of wandering around aimlessly in WoW and cancelled my account.

This morning, I got an e-mail saying my account had be been banned. Reason given:

Exploitative Activity: Abuse of the Economy

This was a surprise to me; especially when I discovered it was a legitimate email from Blizzard. I logged in to Battlenet (I haven't purchased Cataclysm) and it turns out that my account was active (e.g. trial) and also that it was indeed banned.

Because of the reason I was banned, I have to assume it was one of those gold spammers that got into my account.

I've got my account status resolved and my characters restored. But I have a couple of questions for the aftermath:

  1. I guard all of my account information very closely (even my less-important MMORPG info) and I don't fall for phishing e-mails. What is the most popular way these "companies" get my login info?
  2. Hacking into someone else's e-mail is a crime. Is hacking into someone's battlenet account a crime as well? If Blizzard coughed up the name of the company who stole my info, could I, in theory, go after them legally?

I know question two is farfetched...but I'm just curious. After being on the net for over 18 years, I'm thankful that the first time I got hacked was over something innocuous, but it still stings.


UPDATE

I updated my support ticket asking for more information and this is the reply I received:

Greetings!

Thank you for taking the time to contact us regarding your account.

After reading your petition and taking a further look at your account, it appears that the compromise issue first started on 9/10/2011. Someone unauthorized to access your account logged in and damaged it. Unfortunately, we are unable to provide any specific information relating to the party responsible for the compromise issue. While it may not be possible to know exactly how the compromise happened, I would however highly recommend using the information on our Account Security Checklist found here http://us.battle.net/security/checklist.html to address every possible source of entry in the future.

Other than their Authenticator, that security checklist covers the basic stuff you'd see from any company explaining basic internet security. (something I'm very familiar with).

IMHO, it is possible to discover how the compromise happened, but I doubt Blizzard wants to join me on my personal crusade :P

I would like to believe that somehow their databases got hacked and/or some rogue employee at Blizzard sold e-mail addresses for cancelled accounts to a gold farm. But who knows?!?

Regardless, I'm updating my passwords just to make sure accounts with more sensitive information are not compromised.

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2  
Do you use the same email/password combo on another website, or game? Maybe it was taken from another source and simply "tried" against wow to see if it exists or works. –  Viper_Sb Sep 13 '11 at 19:41
    
Note that it is possible that your account hasn't been involved in anything, and that someone simply made a typo somewhere. I had the same thing happen to me a couple of years ago, and I know no one else had logged on to my account. –  Michael Madsen Sep 13 '11 at 20:38
    
@Michael Madsen I wish that were the case, but there are new characters on some of my servers that I know I did not create. Since my "trial" still has seven days left, I'm going to login and look at these characters to see what they have. I'm still show 5GB of download though...so it will most likely happen tomorrow. –  ray023 Sep 13 '11 at 21:12
    
@Viper_Sub I started playing WoW about four years ago. I can't say 100% no. But I'm pretty sure it is a no; mainly because I don't use my full e-mail account to login....and my pw on e-mail was different. –  ray023 Sep 13 '11 at 21:17
1  
@ray023 It's probably worth noting that earlier this year, WoW+Burning Crusade has gone Free-to-Play up to level 20, which means that "trial accounts" shouldn't actually have any time limit anymore. In other words, just because your account doesn't have any paid time on it, that's no longer a guarantee that somebody can't access it illicitly and start spamming trade chat with their gold prices. –  jsnlxndrlv Sep 13 '11 at 21:33

1 Answer 1

up vote 9 down vote accepted

The most common methods these gold farming companies use to get account info are:

  • Phishing
    • Most of these attacks, as you mention, come through emails. Always check the domain of the link (the actual URL you will be directed to, and not what is displayed in the text of the link!) on any emails you get relating to WoW (or any other game... or emails in general!). Also check for misspellings. It is amazing how intricate these scams can be, yet simple spell-check is apparently too difficult. Phishing attacks don't always come through email, though. Some websites are designed to phish for WoW account information as well. Be wary of any site that asks you to log in.
  • Key Loggers

    • There are many malware apps and viruses out there that will install key loggers on your machine, which will then transmit your information to the farming companies. Keep your anti-virus definitions up to date, be wary of what sites you surf, and be careful of installing any suspicious WoW add-ons!.
  • Brute Force

    • This seems much less likely, but if you have a weak password it might be possible.

The authenticator from Blizzard is supposed to be an excellent tool to protect your account.

Regarding your second question, yes, it most likely is illegal (there have been a number of cases around the world of people being successfully prosecuted for virtual theft), however, the chances of you successfully pursuing such a case within the context of a WoW account theft are almost non-existent. Most of the primary gold farming companies are located in countries where the government either honestly doesn't care, or actively protects their citizens in these endeavors.

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5  
This falls into the Key Logging part, but there are a number of add ons for WOW that are in fact cover for key loggers. –  Viper_Sb Sep 13 '11 at 19:35
    
@Viper Good call! I was about to edit that in when I got distracted :) –  Beofett Sep 13 '11 at 19:42
    
For e-mails saying please click this link and logon, I open a new browser window and type the url in myself. For Key Loggers, I do keep my virus up to date and practice safe-surfing. Plus, I had not logged into WoW in one or two years. If they hacked it earlier, why would they take so long to use it? Finally, because my password was not too complicated (e.g. simple22 ) I do think they could have brute forced it, but they'd have to know the e-mail address first. These are all good points (+1), but for someone like me, they all seem unlikely. –  ray023 Sep 13 '11 at 21:28
    
@Beofett Marking this as the answer because the content answers my question. Personally, I want to believe it is deeper than the above...but I'm not going to relish on it. Thanks for taking the time to compose such a detailed answer. –  ray023 Sep 13 '11 at 22:02
1  
@ray023 Regarding how they get your email address, I don't have an answer for that, but I do know that there definitely seems to be some way that the farmers get lists of valid WoW player email addresses. I don't know anyone who doesn't play WoW who has gotten one of these emails, but most people who do seem to get one or two. While forum accounts are one possibility, I suspect there is some sort of security leak somewhere that allows them to harvest the email addresses of players. –  Beofett Sep 13 '11 at 22:19

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