Valve, through its Steam Store, and five major PC game publishers - Bandai Namco, Capcom, Focus Home Interactive, Koch Media, and ZeniMax - have been fined by the European Commission for anticompetitive behavior. The total fine is €7.8 million (or about $9.5 million) and revolves around pricing and game availability within the European Union.
The EU's statement says that the publishers worked with Valve to limit the availability of certain games within specific areas of the European Economic Area (EEA). In particular, the antitrust regulators found that the publishers had agreements with Valve to prevent the activation of games purchased in Czechia, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia, but activated outside of these countries.
The EU has rules preventing geo-locking of digital goods within the Union, meaning that these rules violated the EU's Digital Single Market. The intention of the Market is to allow citizens of member states to be able to price shop across borders to find the best available price. Essentially, the EU is looking for companies to prevent offering better prices on digital goods to citizens of countries with lower disposable incomes.
As a result of the violation, all of these companies have been fined individually. But, because each company played its own unique roll in the scheme, each has its own amount to pay. Bandai Namco was fined €340,000, Capcom was fined €396,000, and Koch Media was fined €977,000. The other three companies will have to pay significantly more, with ZeniMax being fined €1,664,000, Valve being fined €1,624,000, and Focus Home Interactive loses the game with the biggest fine of €2,888,000.
While the five publishers all cooperated with the regulators' investigation, they have received reduced fines. Valve, on the other hand, did not cooperate, and will be assessed the full amount. It is clear that the EU has put its foot down here, indicating that the fairly standard practice of geo-locking videogames will not be tolerated within its borders.
Near the end of 2020, a massive hack was uncovered in the network management system, SolarWinds. The attack came from a Russian state-sponsored organization, named Cozy Bear, and was administered via a compromised update. Through this update process, Cozy Bear was about to distribute code allowing them backdoor access to the systems of those who installed it. We recognized at the time that the full implications of the attack were unknown, though we did learn some of the many companies and organizations affected. Malwarebytes was not one of those companies, but Microsoft was. However, Malwarebytes has announced that it was breached by Cozy Bear as well.
This newly discovered breach was not through Malwarebytes software, nor was it through SolarWinds, as the company does not use the software. However, it came in through elevated access to the company's Microsoft Office 365 account. They were alerted to the attack by Microsoft Security Response Center, who noticed an attack method that closely resembled the SolarWinds attacks.
The company has said that, since their systems were not directly compromised, their software is still "safe to use" but that their customer information may have been accessed. They said the attacker "only gained access to a limited subset of internal company emails" and they "found no evidence of unauthorized access or compromise in any of [its" class="UpStreamLink"> internal on-premises and production environments." The attack came through a dormant email protection product that was still in their Office 365 installation.
This is a good reminder that any software that you are no longer using should be considered for uninstallation. Dormant or inactive apps and tools can often be ignored for update, meaning that attack surfaces are not removed. This leaves systems vulnerable to outside attack. If the big security companies can get hit by this type of attack, so can you.
As the number of video streaming services increases, so does the need for those services to cement themselves into the daily life of their users. Each has taken a different tactic, with some focusing on original programming while others have focused on unique business models. The one thing that has continued to come up as a driving factor for continued usage and engagement is the availability of the platform. Quibi learned this too late, and the service did not survive. HBO Max learned this lesson, too, but has had an issue executing their plan - until now.
The company has announced that the holes in its distribution model are being plugged quickly. First, the app is officially available for the PlayStation 5. That makes the app available on almost all gaming consoles, with the exception of the Nintendo Switch. As the Switch has never been a major streaming platform, its exemption from the platform isn't going to be a long-lasting problem.
While getting onto the PlayStation 5 was important, the other gap was far more important to fill - Roku. Roku devices account for the vast majority of US streaming usage, and HBO Max has been entirely missing from the platform since launch. This is despite the fact that previous HBO streaming platforms have been available to Roku users. That has been resolved, as December 17 saw the HBO Max app finally arrive on Roku devices. It is replacing existing HBO apps on the platform, as it has in the company's business model.
The timing could not be more important, with all WarnerMedia films coming to the platform, starting with Wonder Woman 1984 this Friday. For the very risky business move to be a success, the company needs to have as many eyeballs on the film as possible. If not, investors might give in to the pressures from AMC to stop the rollout plans.
One of the truths of the world is that the internet is a dangerous place. Even things that are supposed to be safe and easy can turn into unmitigated disasters. For example, when an update for a network management system is compromised by hackers, adding in a backdoor that allows those hackers to enter the systems that download those updates. That is exactly what happened several months ago when an update for network management software developed by SolarWinds was compromised and distributed to tens or possibly hundreds of thousands of networks.
The compromise was made by the innocuous-sounding hacker collective Cozy Bear, a Russian state-sponsored organization, and revealed by FireEye. The revelation is a huge problem, as users of SolarWinds range from the likes of Microsoft to the US Department of Defense. The government has recognized a "significant and ongoing hacking campaign", the scope of which is unknown.
There are a number of high-impact aspects of the hack. The first and most important is that it could take decades to unravel the details of the hack and what data might have been compromised. Currently, what is known is that the malware gives the hackers a broad reach into the infected systems. As the total scope within the government's systems is unknown, the DOD will need to operate under the premise that the Russian government knows anything and everything - creating a national security disaster.
On the second front, the depth of the SolarWinds software within networks could mean that the servers that have been infected could be unsalvageable. There's talk that any server that has been infected by the malware might need to be replaced, at a great cost to the government and the thousands of other clients of SolarWinds.
This hack brings back to the forefront a few tenents of IT security that have been lax or entirely ignored over the past few years. Unproven software, which SolarWinds product is, should never be installed on mission-critical systems. A company like SolarWinds needs years of successful track record before it can be trusted on major networks. The second is that updates should not be installed until IT has tested them as safe, both in terms of security and compatibility. Third, large central systems are never a good idea. Cloud systems have been showing us this vulnerability with AWS outages taking down everything from websites to Netflix, but even internal central systems create a bottleneck that can destroy an organization.
If you are not aware of the continuing issues with Cyberpunk 2077, you have not played the game and likely spent very little time online. The number of memes based on the problems has become the majority of the internet, or so it seems. That is because the game was so highly anticipated, and the release has been a massive disappointment. Since we discussed requirements last week, things have gotten even more complex.
Developer CD Projekt Red has released an official apology for the state of the game, particularly on current generation consoles (Xbox One and PlayStation 4). The apology came after gamers complained that the game was glitchy at best and unplayable at worst, with some players complaining about regular hard crashes. The apology focused on the fact that they had not done enough to show the game on current consoles, relying mostly on PC and next-gen consoles instead )Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5).
The statement included language that appeared to encourage gamers to return the game if they are unhappy with the quality and are not willing to wait for updates to fix the issues. The statement said, in part,
We would appreciate it if you would give us a chance, but if you are not pleased with the game on your console and don't want to wait for updates, you can opt to refund your copy. For copies purchased digitally, please use the refund system of PSN or Xbox respectively. For boxed versions, please first try to get a refund at the store where you bought the game. Should this not be possible, please contact us at email@example.com and we will do our best to help you. Starting from today, you can contact us for a week up until December 21st, 2020.
The problem is that neither Sony nor Microsoft had adjusted their refund policies for digital purchases. If you had played the game on a PlayStation, you were out of luck, and gamers again expressed their displeasure with the confused messaging from CD Projekt Red. Michał Nowakowski, senior vice president of business development, said on an emergency investor call,
One has to understand: Microsoft and Sony have refund policies for every product that is released digitally on their storefronts. Despite several articles I've seen that things are being set up just for us, it's actually not true - these policies are in place and have always been in place; they're not offered specifically for us. Anyone who has purchased any title on the PlayStation Network or the Microsoft storefront can ask for a refund, and if it's made within certain boundaries, usually related to time, usage and so on, can ask for that refund. Our procedure here with Microsoft and Sony is not different than with any other title released on any of those storefronts. I want to state that clearly, as there seem to be certain misconceptions.
Fortunately, the companies decided that they needed to act because of the overall failure of the title. Sony, whose refund policies were the most impactful on gamers, went the farthest - delisting the game from the PSN Store entirely. They also adjusted the refund policy for the game, and offered refunds for any digital purchases of the title. Microsoft is also offering refunds, but has not pulled the title from the store.
Physical copies, and digital copies purchased at retail, also have a process for refund. Retail stores are ebing encouraged to accept these refunds, but if you are funded, the company will refund the purchase themselves.
If you're unaware of the Coalition for App Fairness (CAF) or haven't heard about it in a while, you can be forgiven. The organization has often stayed in the shadows, working to fix a problem that the general population is not directly affected by, but developers are - Apple's App Store policies. The organization is led by Epic Games and Spotify but has grown to 50 members, with the newest coming on board this week.
While technically only one new member was added, it is a big get for the movement. The newest member is Digital Content Next, an organization that represents the majority of the major publishers in the United States. Among the group's ranks are The New York Times, Associated Press, and NPR. By adding the major news publishers, adding to the existing European members, the group now has a good fighting force on another front in the Apple monopoly battle - publishing.
Currently, the major battlefront has been general App Store policies. It started with Epic Games suit over the 30 percent "App Store tax," which is forced upon publishers for using the company's proprietary payment system - a feature that most developers don't want to use, but are forced to by Apple. Recently, Apple threw fuel on the fire by dropping the rate to 15 percent for streaming video services but did not extend the same offer to music and news subscription apps. That move was what finally brought Digital Content Next into the fold.
However, there is another aspect of Apple's closed environment that has caused problems recently - Apple News and, more importantly, Apple News+. In June, The New York Times announced that it was removing its content from Apple News entirely over the way Apple was trying to control the distribution of news on its platforms. The publishers were not to receive a large portion of the upcoming Apple News+ revenue, while also being boxed in on content.
Overall, the primary goal of the organization is still on App Store policies, but with multiple ways to show Apple's attempted control over third-party developers, it's got a stronger case for anticompetitive behavior.