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Friendly DRM: Valve Announces Steam Guard

For us, a chastity belt

Sometimes limiting what you can do with the stuff you’ve bought isn’t such a bad thing. The key is that you choose to limit it, rather than that decision being made by some paranoid corporate hivemind that’s convinced you’re going to stand on a street corner selling bootlegged copies of every game you own out of a suitcase you stole from an old lady, then spending the proceeds on injecting ground-up terrorist bones directly into your eyeballs.

Such self-policing is the apparent philosophy behind the latest update to Valve’s digital store – Steam Guard. Worried about your password being nicked? Then semi-permanently link your account to one specific PC.

It’s a great idea, with the unfortunate exception that it’s at least partially bound-up in Valve’s apparent ongoing love-in with Intel. For full protection, you’ll apparently need one of the second-generation Intel Core CPUs (Sandy Bridge et al) and associated motherboard, which will soon be updated with something called Intel Identity Protection Technology (IPT). This is hardware-based DRM, essentially, designed to mean that you can only access Steam (and presumably other types of account) with pre-approved hardware. “IPT generates a new numerical password every 30 seconds, integrating into the processor functionality that previously required a separate card or key fob”, it says here.

(The latter technique has previously been adopted by Blizzard for WoW, which was certainly secure, unless you got robbed by a very specific mugger, but made logins that much more of a faff.)

What’s not clear yet is if it will work on other PCs in a more limited capacity, and also how many PCs you can approve. I run Steam on three different machines, for instance, and I don’t want to be manually unapproving and reapproving every time I want to change my user name or download a game. “Attempts to modify or change account settings by any other PC won’t be possible without the user’s approval” is the word, which hopefully means at least playing games from your own other PCs should be possible. Protecting the password is clearly the main thrust, and in this age of keylogging and phising, it’s certainly a Very Good Idea. Even Gabe Newell thinks so:

“Account phishing and hijacking are our #1 support issues. With Intel’s IPT and Steam Guard, we’ve taken a big step towards giving customers the account security they need as they purchase more and more digital goods.”

Great! But I’m really not interested in buying a new CPU and motherboard right now, thanks. Can I at least bind a MAC address or something to Steam Guard in the meantime?

There’s also reference to Steamworks-enabled games being able to adopt it; I don’t quite grasp why, if it’s in the core application anyway – unless it’s a way of limiting installs? That would be… problematic. I’m entirely conjecturing here, however. Hopefully it just means games with other account settings within them. More details soon, no doubt.

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Alec Meer

Senior Editor

Co-founder of RPS. Dungeon Keeper & X-COM 4 Life.

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