The US Department of Justice (DoJ) has detained 2 alleged leaders of a global, notorious video-game piracy group called Team Xecuter.
The 2 alleged leaders of Team Xecuter targeted popular consoles like the Nintendo Switch, the Sony PlayStation Classic & Microsoft Xbox.
The duo in custody, Max Louarn (48, a French national from Avignon), & Gary Bowser (51, a Canadian national from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic), allegedly led the criminal enterprise’s efforts to hack popular video-game consoles so they could be used to play pirated copies of video games.
The DoJ also charged Team Xecuter member Yuanning Chen, 35, a Chinese national of Shenzhen, China.
Video-game manufacturers govern the use of major consoles to play copyrighted video-game titles with end-user licensing agreements, which prevents anyone from duplicating, modifying & selling the software.
Also, console manufacturers & game developers implement various technical measures, from specific game cartridge designs to cryptographic keys on the software, in order to prevent the use of unauthorised firmware that could be used to play pirated video games.
Team Xecuter, which claims in underground advertisements that it has been around since 2001, has bypassed these measures by developing & selling illegal “circumvention” devices. One example is a USB device that the group sold, starting in 2018, called the SX Pro, which lets the Nintendo Switch console run pirated games.
Beyond Nintendo Switch, the cyber-crime group also targeted popular consoles such as the Nintendo 3DS, the Nintendo Entertainment System Classic Edition, the Sony PlayStation Classic & Microsoft Xbox.
US Justice Department
“These defendants were allegedly leaders of a notorious international criminal group that reaped illegal profits for years by pirating video game technology of US companies,” observed Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian Rabbitt of the US Justice Department’s Criminal Division, in a Fri. announcement.
“These arrests show that the department will hold accountable hackers who seek to commandeer & exploit the intellectual property of American companies for financial gain, no matter where they may be located.”
12 Individual Members
According to court documents, the Team Xecuter group is comprised of more than 12 individual members worldwide.
This includes: Developers who exploit vulnerabilities in video-game consoles & design the circumvention devices; website designers who create the various websites promoting and advertising these devices; suppliers who manufacture the devices; & resellers who distribute the devices.
According to the DoJ, the group has continuously evaded law-enforcement efforts by using a wide variety of brand names, websites, and distribution channels.
Between June 2013 & August 2020, for instance, Team Xecuter used a variety of product names for its devices, such as the Gateway 3DS, the Stargate, the TrueBlue Mini, the Classic2Magic & the SX line of devices (that includes the SX OS, as well as the SX Pro, the SX Lite & the SX Core).
The group also allegedly masked its illegal activity by pretending to support gaming enthusiasts who wanted to design their own video games for non-commercial use.
The DoJ also suggested that behind the scenes, Team Xecuter was supporting online libraries of pirated video games for its customers, & several of the devices also came preloaded with numerous pirated games. Ironically, the group also used a licensing scheme to protect its circumvention software from being pirated, the department commented.
“According to the indictment, Team Xecuter was so brazen that it even required customers to purchase a ‘license’ to unlock the full features of its custom firmware, the SX OS, in order to enable the ability to play pirated video games,” says the DoJ.
The videogame & enthusiast markets are lucrative industries for cyber-criminals. A recent report highlighted that credential-theft targeting hardcore gamers has hit an all-time high as scams, illicit markets & account takeovers have become a booming business. Meanwhile, hackers are gaining over $1m per year selling compromised accounts for the popular Fortnite video game in underground forums.
Video-game companies are cracking down on these security challenges, & in particular the issue of piracy – with Nintendo filing 2 lawsuits against Nintendo Switch piracy resellers that were part of Team Xecuter, as well as against UberChips, a website that sold Team Xecuter’s hardware. Last week, UberChips agreed to a $2 million settlement with Nintendo.
The DoJ outlined that Louarn & Bowser were arrested in Sept. in connection with the charges in the case. The US is seeking Louarn’s extradition to stand trial in the US, while Bowser was recently deported from the Dominican Republic, & appeared Fri. in Federal Court, in New Jersey.
Each is charged with 11 felony counts, including conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud, conspiracy to circumvent technological measures & to traffic in circumvention devices, trafficking in circumvention devices & conspiracy to commit money laundering.