Havok investigates source code heist

16 Oct 2003

A high profile theft by hackers of source code for the major computer game Half-Life 2 could have consequences for Havok, the leading Dublin-based games software developer.

It is understood that components of Havok’s physics engine software used to make the long-awaited release were stolen along with the game’s source code. The company said that it was too early to assess the damage the theft would cause Havok as its investigations were far from complete.

The company is one of Ireland’s best known software players. Its physics engine technology is used by games developers to create realistic graphics for games for the PC, Xbox and PlayStation2. The company employs 50 people at its headquarters in Dublin’s Digital Hub.

Half-Life 2 is a much-anticipated entry into the computer game market. Due out later this year, the game pits the human race against aliens from another dimension. Its predecessor Half-Life, which was released in 1998, remains one of the most popular first-person shooter games.

Valve Software, the company that created the game, only became aware of the theft a few weeks ago when hackers compromised the company’s website and posted a report of how they had broken into Valve’s email server and copied the entire source code tree for Half-Life 2.

It is understood that keystroke loggers – the computer equivalent of unauthorised wiretaps – had recorded employee passwords and confidential information. The company had been suffering from intermittent denial of service attacks for over a year beforehand.

It is feared that the hackers will use the source code to find ways of hacking into players’ computers and servers when the game is launched later in the year.

Havok’s chief technology officer, Dr Steven Collins told siliconrepublic.com that the company’s technology was being used to help create the game and that the company was also providing Valve with games development services. He said that while it is too early to say for sure, components of Havok’s physics engine may have also been stolen.

“It is too early to draw any conclusions. Investigations are under way and we expect to know the true extent of the situation within a few weeks,” Collins said.

Despite the threat of theft, Collins said that Havok was enjoying the “hottest season for the games industry”, and that the company is anticipating the Christmas release of Max Pain 2 for the PlayStation2, which was created using Havok’s technology and services.

Havok’s success on the international scene has kindled hopes at Government level for the creation of a multi-billion euro games industry in Ireland that could result in the creation of several thousand jobs.

By John Kennedy