Earlier this week I heard something along the lines on Twitter that a Nokia engineer has exposed a few vulnerabilities in apps downloaded from the Windows 8 store. I’ve wondered privately for a while how long it would take for someone to figure out how to crack and side-load applications downloaded from the store as demos – turns out, this has actually been a known issue for months.
The reveal comes from blogger and Nokia Engineer Justin Angel. Angel notes that while the hacks are potentially devastating to the Windows Store’s future revenue, they’re actually pretty old-school when you get down to it. Hacking of the apps includes editing xml files, decrypting some others and even simply opening things in a text editor and taking away the trial period. Angel notes that this shouldn’t hurt the revenues of the developers with actual applications to sell, but it could bust out any game developer who has games currently on the platform.
Hacking trial versions of games isn’t as rare as one might think. People do that all the time with anti-virus software hacks and I even have a copy of Nero 7 on a disk somewhere that has a trial version I cracked myself in college. Admittedly it was very low-key and I’ve now forgotten how I did it, but it can be done. Early demos of games distributed on disks often had the full game on there but was either time or level-limited. Editing those software files allowed hackers to continue on with the full game. In fact, its even possible with the free games Steam deals out on the free-to-play weekends, but its a lot harder to do and doesn’t always work. You’d need to have the same software tools as Valve’s developers as well as a customised version of its Steam app to do it.
Angel’s site has been taken offline for unknown reasons and he’s not even mentioning it on Twitter. Has he been taken to task by Microsoft for revealing the flaws? It would be silly, given that developers have known about these issues for months since the Developer Preview was released. It bears reminding that the tricks he’s using have been plaguing the Windows platform wholesale for years, as its the world’s biggest install base for pirates (because, lets face it, what pirate is going to use Linux or do a few OS X kernel hacks? Right) and people who just like to cheat to get to the top of the line. It will be interesting to see how things pan out in the following weeks. I’ve contacted Justin myself for further answers and questions, so I’ll just update this article when I get more info.