What do unicorns, ninjas and Vulcans have to do with security? Everything, at least if you're talking about Xbox LIVE security. There is a team at Microsoft, known as the Xbox LIVE Policy and Enforcement team, where all of the cheaters, hackers, phishers and thieves come to be dealt with. The team is entrusted with the responsibility of making sure "Xbox LIVE is safe, non-offensive and fun for all users."
They don't deal with everything, though. Obviously if someone is cheating or modifying a game the team will get involved, but there is a lot happening on LIVE that cannot be regulated. Xbox LIVE Enforcement Unicorn Ninja (there are your unicorns and ninjas), Boris Erickson, says,
If you're playing a game on Xbox LIVE, and somebody snipes you from across the map and you drop the F-bomb, we're not going to ban you – not for the occasional slip. We focus on the really bad stuff... We are not here to be the arbiters of all speech. But there are certainly some kinds of communication on Xbox LIVE that crosses a line – racism, homophobia, sexism, offensive comments about nationalities, and more.
To find out more about the ninjas, hit the break.
The team is hidden away from their peers some, behind a black curtain. I assume it is to prevent their co-workers from having to deal with the filth they work with on a daily basis. Being hidden away cannot hide them from themselves, however. Sometimes dealing with bigotry and theft and having to work with law enforcement and in one case, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (MCMEC), can take a tole.
That, of course, pushes a lot of buttons. We make sure people get the space and time they need after something particularly bad – to have a talk, or go outside and take a walk... Sites like 'I Can Has Cheezburger' and 'The Daily Squee' are frequently called upon around here. They do a lot to help. You sort of need that disconnection from the offensive content sometimes.
It's not all bad, though. One of the team's responsibilities is to "be in the community," which is fancy talk for playing games on LIVE. Of course, they are looking for things like exploits and cheats, but they are allowed to enjoy themselves, too.
Some of the team members enjoy their work so much that they interact with their computer systems through an Xbox controller. The system, named Vulcan, was developed in-house specifically for the purpose of dealing with the constant flood of complaints and problems. It was designed on napkins and built internally because spreadsheets just don't cut it anymore. Luckily, the system isn't designed to replace the team, though.
Most of the decisions need human eyes to keep it real, though we are moving into a realm where we're applying more automation to the process.
Keeping people in the picture will help prevent problems like the Fort Gay banning, although people were involved in that one, too. All-in-all, it seems they have an interesting, fun and certainly challenging job in trying to maintain decorum in the gaming community. It is a big job and it takes a strong person to do it, and I thank them for it.