Rockstar Game's latest brush with GTA Online modders has been resolved, with a security-focused patch remedying an exploit that could wipe away everything you've earned over the years in an instant. For the Los Santos faithful caught in between, though, it's another twist in the ongoing tale that's been unfolding over the past ten years. While GTA Online has felt safer to play on PC since the update, the feeling lingers that the protections introduced could have come sooner.
"Rockstar has once again done the bare minimum to patch a fundamentally flawed system, but it is better than nothing," popular Grand Theft Auto V speedrunner and streamer DarkViperAU (opens in new tab) tells me. "A lot of this just should have been corrected half a decade ago, but it would be unrealistic to expect grand changes this late in the game's life."
Since the update went live, players have been dipping in to see how it affects how they interact with Los Santos. You can play GTA Online through public lobbies that are more lucrative regarding open-world event rewards, or within private lobbies with friends that sacrifice in-game gains for a reprieve from the chaos brought about by strangers. The latter, though, appears to have benefited more than the former.
"[The patch] should allow streamers to play without being directly targeted, and it should allow players to hide in Invite Only or Friends Only lobbies, like you would expect if a mod user is harassing them," another GTA Online personality, Speyedr (opens in new tab), tells me, suggesting what's included in the patch is a "good step forward" for players, "if a little late".
Speyedr is currently maintaining and improving upon a popular, long-running harassment-prevention tool called Guardian, which essentially acts as a more robust firewall that keeps modders from forcibly entering your lobbies. It's long been community knowledge that you can create empty public lobbies with some internet tinkering, though the tool's appeal is its ability to stop griefers from entering your instance once they've been made.
Speyedr tells me that their attraction to making GTA Online safer from bad actors was sparked by myriad interactions with them, eventually leading them to tinker with firewall settings before becoming aware of another pre-existing tool called Guardian.
"[Modders] were stalking my account, brute-force joining my private games, and then crashing my game so I couldn't play," Spedyder says. "At this point, I decided to do my own research into if I could prevent these modders from joining my games in a way which didn't modify the game and didn't break Rockstar's Terms of Service."
Mod menus have long been an issue over GTA Online’s ten-year life cycle. While fairly harmless in an offline setting, they’ve been used to grief others online by blowing them up or turning them into something else entirely. Players mostly use them to bypass Rockstar’s microtransactions, though more serious incidents have punctuated GTA Online’s history.
“GTA Online has had a never-ending stream of security flaws that have enabled anyone with a few dollars to effectively have developer tools,” DarkViper tells me. “The more popular you get as a content creator the more likely you will be targeted by these tools, and the solution to this issue has differed over time.
“At times the known flaws in Rockstar's security are not that bad, and so you can just avoid public lobbies and be fine. Other times the mod menus are so powerful that users will be alerted the second you are online, and they will crash your game without even needing to interact with you at all, which is the experience we again had recently.”
It was the sort of harassment that DarkViper describes that eventually inspired the creation of Guardian, with one group of friends tired of being griefed – not unlike Speyedr and DarkViper – starting to create apps around the knowledge that you could manipulate your internet connection to kick you to an empty public lobby; it worked great until randoms joined, but what if you could stop that from happening? Jove Starup, the creator of now-closed group Digital Arc (opens in new tab), tells me that Guardian and the other apps they’ve created around that premise have racked up 70,000 downloads. The challenges of maintaining the firewall in response to Rockstar’s updates eventually led the project to go open source, attracting Speyedr's attention.
GTA Online’s security-focused update is one of the latest challenges for the community-forged tool, as it changed the rules of how the game functions. While Speyedr initially told me that it remained to be seen whether they could get “Guardian back to being a 100% secure firewall”, things have appeared rosier since, now that they've figured things out. As such, while GTA Online may be improved to the point of players not needing a third-party protection tool, Spedyder remains committed to improving Guardian should it be required in time.
"For me, it's a little bittersweet as Guardian was looking to be a very promising and useful tool for protecting yourself while remaining ethical and legal, which is something you usually don't get when using third-party security. I'll keep on working on Guardian regardless in case it's needed again (my firewalls are three for three against the most recent game-breaking exploits), but hopefully, this new matchmaking method can keep players safe without having to resort to firewalls."
Starup, meanwhile, remains convinced of community-crafted tools like Guardian and their place within the community, regardless of Rockstar's latest patch. Without them, "we [would] have to rely on Rockstar for banning and blocking script kids, and we know that ain't happening," they say.
As for the wider community, a feeling (opens in new tab) of (opens in new tab) weariness (opens in new tab)remains despite the updated security protections. Many are happy (opens in new tab) to see long-standing problems solved, though the feeling that GTA 6 will provide the clean slate needed is popular. Even for those who use Guardian, another iteration of GTA Online feels the appropriate place for Rockstar to apply what it's learnt over the past 10 years.
"It remains to be seen if I can play GTA Online in the manner I did prior to the more recent security vulnerabilities," DarkViper says. "However, if I can avoid being DDoSed or constantly crashed, I will play again. The worst case scenario is I lose my account and can no longer play GTA Online, either through Rockstar banning me or mod menus doing something game-breaking to it (at this point they have never broken an account in a way that couldn't be fixed). In such a case, it would be the exact same as not playing the game anyway."
"I still feel the same way as I have always felt about GTA Online, it is a decent game to play with friends, but it is clear that it has always been a buggy, insecure, poorly held-together mess that we all can only hope Rockstar improves upon massively in GTA Online 2."
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