EA announces kernel-level anti-cheat system for PC games

Technology
EA’s new anti-cheat arrives in FIFA 23 first. | Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Electronics Arts (EA) is launching a new kernel-level anti-cheat system for its PC games. The EA AntiCheat (EAAC) will debut first in FIFA 23 later this fall and is a custom anti-cheat system developed in-house by EA developers. It’s designed to protect EA games from tampering and cheaters, and EA says it won’t add anti-cheat to every game and treat its implementation on a case-by-case basis.

“PC cheat developers have increasingly moved into the kernel, so we need to have kernel-mode protections to ensure fair play and tackle PC cheat developers on an even playing field,” explains Elise Murphy, senior director of game security and anti-cheat at EA. “As tech-inclined video gamers ourselves, it is important to us to make sure that any kernel anti-cheat included in our games acts with a strong focus on the privacy and security of our gamers that use a PC.”

Kernel-level anti-cheat systems have drawn criticism from privacy and security advocates, as the drivers these systems use are complex and run at such a high level that if there are security issues, then developers have to be very quick to address them.

Manchester City players in FIFA 23 Image: Electronic Arts
FIFA 23 will be the first game with EA’s new anti-cheat system.

EA says kernel-level protection is “absolutely vital” for competitive games like FIFA 23, as existing cheats operate in the kernel space, so games running in regular user mode can’t detect that tampering or cheating is occurring. “Unfortunately, the last few years have seen a large increase in cheats and cheat techniques operating in kernel-mode, so the only reliable way to detect and block these is to have our anti-cheat operate there as well,” explains Murphy.

EA’s anti-cheat system will run at the kernel level and only runs when a game with EAAC protection is running. EA says its anti-cheat processes shut down once a game does and that the anti-cheat will be limited to what data it collects on a system. “EAAC does not gather any information about your browsing history, applications that are not connected to EA games, or anything that is not directly related to anti-cheat protection,” says Murphy.

Kernel-level anti-cheat systems are becoming increasingly common these days. Activision launched its own custom Ricochet anti-cheat system in Call of Duty last year with a kernel-level driver, and the world’s biggest PC games have been using similar techniques to fight a surge in hackers and cheaters in recent years.

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