How to spot a hacker in Counter-Strike

Hacking is rife in CS:GO and even pro players are being banned, so how do we stop it?
CS:GO © x22Cheats
By Chris Higgins

Over the weekend, Valve had a little autumnal clearout of their suspected Counter-Strike: Global Offensive cheater list. In among the script kiddies and third accounts being handed Valve Anti-Cheat (VAC) bans were some familiar names to those who follow pro CS:GO. None other than Titan’s Hovik “KQLY” Tovmassian and Epsilon’s Gordon “SF” Giry were banned, just hours before their teams were set to fly out to DreamHack Winter in Sweden, forcing both the tournament to drop the teams and the teams to drop the players.

The fallout has been messy, and much like last month’s Dota match-fixing revelations, the effects echo much further than those involved. Though those who have been caught are facing permanent “VACations” from eSports, the lingering spectre of hacking casts aspersions on us all. It even puts doubt on previously defining moments in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive esports, such as the incredible clutch jumpshot USP kill by KQLY at ESL One below. So how do we go about preventing false allegations? Or catching a hacker with their hands in the code? Here are a few tips to spot a cheater, and what you should do if you find one.

© ESL One

Hacking is easy...
The first thing to note is the many different kinds of hacks, and that they are simple to install. As such, most hackers won’t be very good at hiding what they do – which is good for you, as they’re easier to spot, but bad because it means anyone can use them. The main types you can encounter are split into categories:

Wall hacks: a common accusation when a player doesn’t see their assailant is that they shot them through a wall. There are also hacks that let you see player outlines (like in spectator mode) or grenade paths. One of the more blatant cheats.

Aimbots and triggerbots: like auto-assisted aim on consoles, these hacks can be configured to either snap to a target, or otherwise improve accuracy. Triggerbots fire as soon as the crosshair moves over a target, “improving” reaction times in corner ambushes. Can be obvious, or rather subtle.

The “ESP” hack: gives you “extra-sensory powers” to know, telepathically, your opponent’s ammo/health count and whether they’re walking or sprinting. Can also boost sound levels of footsteps or distant gunfire.

Mobility hacks: these range from slightly increased speed to ability to teleport anywhere on the map. Can include noclip, or “ghosting”, through solid objects and walls, however these are less common and almost entirely removed from the game other than cheat console-enabled servers.

© HackerLime

What am I looking for?
Now, getting annoyed at someone repeatedly out-sniping you isn’t exactly grounds for reporting them for hacking, but there are some ways to see if something nefarious is going on. Your best bet is checking the replays of a match you were in with the hacker and watching through their eyes. GOTV isn’t 100% accurate to their movements, so very, very subtle aim or trigger adjustments will be hard to spot, but wallhacking is obvious.

Unless the hacker is skilled in masking their ill-gotten knowledge, in spectator mode you’ll be able to see them reacting to player outlines as if they can see what you are seeing too. Tracking a player through a wall until they reach a corner, or not cautiously approaching corners UNLESS there is an outline on the other side are pretty dead giveaways. Of course, if they’ve gone full Matrix and started shooting people from across the map through several buildings you can go right ahead and chalk up a report.

If you’re in any doubt about whether you saw an unnaturally smooth crosshair flick straight to an opponent’s head, or if human reaction times really could have let them be the quickest finger, do some background research. In the leaderboard (default key “TAB”) you can right click on the suspect’s name and view their CS:GO profile.

First, you should see how many skill badges they have, and their rank. Barely any should raise some question marks, but some high-skill players may just be using a smurf account for trolling or practice. In that case, check their Steam profile. A few things to look out for here are how many hours they’ve played, and their VAC ban status. If it’s over 300, they should have some decent skills, but under 50 or so and they’re pushing their luck. And needless to say, if they’ve been caught before, there’s a much higher chance of them trying again. If their Steam profile is set to private, it’s not a major signifier, but most good hackers keep all those telltale low-hour profiles hidden from view.

Finally, if the player smells fishy enough, right click their name again and report them for the closest matching hack you can make out. Overwatch, the team of experts who review reported replays and demos, will have a much keener eye for the telltale signs of hacking and will take it from there. Reporting them is the first step though, and doing your duty to your community will make sure cheaters never make it to the pro tiers.

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