Automation and Scripting - An investigation into further abuses of BGS and Powerplay

Was this asked already: if this is a cheat/script designed for manipulating the BGS, why would they do this in open where they could get caught? Why not stay in private group or solo?
 
how would a shadow ban prevent them touching the bgs? that's as much as leaving them doing their thing on solo/pg unmolested.

actually, frontier should ban them from solo/pg, i.e. ban them to open, so cmdrs could deal with them! :D
Shadowbanned accounts apparently can't affect the BGS.
 
Was this asked already: if this is a cheat/script designed for manipulating the BGS, why would they do this in open where they could get caught? Why not stay in private group or solo?
Arrogance, script error, coz they can, board flipped to open and then forgot to switch.

No idea, we didn't write the script and omit a "fly in open" safe guard
 
Was this asked already: if this is a cheat/script designed for manipulating the BGS, why would they do this in open where they could get caught? Why not stay in private group or solo?
yep, it was in the first page, scroll down.

For ease of reading here you go, my original answer.

Good question and thanks for reminding me to add this.

Before we knew these players were bots they had ship names like "I Prep Soholia" and "Soholia for Mahon". The thought process for that is two fold

1) Lowering moral and upsetting Mahon power players who know Soholia is a loss making system

2) Routing Newbies to Soholia (we already have a problem as most powers do with Newbies not understanding preparation mechanics)

Further down the line we also suspected that the bots scripting was not sophisticated enough to differentiate between Open, PG and solo. They've since developed that capability so it seems since we alerted them to our awareness though the FDev reports.
 

verminstar

Banned
Botting and scripting have been around since the concept of mmo grind started sometime around the early to mid 90s...it wont ever go away and many have tried to make it go away with little success as there are always ways and means of bending and breaking rules. Fer every counter measure introduced, all it does it slow them down temporarily at best until new ways around the counter is found. It becomes a never ending cycle and a constant drain on dev resources.

Im sorry to say but the more grindy a game is, the worse the issue of botting and scripting will be. Not trying to excuse it or say its ok cos it aint...but having been around mmo games fer as long as I have, I learned its best to just ignore them cos trying to stop them will destroy yer own game in the process. Short story being in a game as grindy as this one, its inevitable no matter how much ye dont like it ^
 
Botting and scripting have been around since the concept of mmo grind started sometime around the early to mid 90s...it wont ever go away and many have tried to make it go away with little success as there are always ways and means of bending and breaking rules. Fer every counter measure introduced, all it does it slow them down temporarily at best until new ways around the counter is found. It becomes a never ending cycle and a constant drain on dev resources.

Im sorry to say but the more grindy a game is, the worse the issue of botting and scripting will be. Not trying to excuse it or say its ok cos it aint...but having been around mmo games fer as long as I have, I learned its best to just ignore them cos trying to stop them will destroy yer own game in the process. Short story being in a game as grindy as this one, its inevitable no matter how much ye dont like it ^
We should ask why people are making bot. Now, I see that we are looking at stopping the bleeding but not looking for the rootcause of it.
 
TL : DR
For several months, The Alliance Office of Statistics have been tracking and monitoring up to 20 seperate accounts that have been using automated scripts for station services, flight and travel from system to system.
Collectively this has been used to undermine Powerplay powers and player faction BGS operations.
The Alliance Office of Statistics and Mahon’s Powerplay has been under attack from bots since June 2017.
These automated accounts are sophisticated, are now aware of current detection methods and are near impossible to counter without robust action from Frontier.
This is an epidemic that is likely more widespread than people are aware. In the following, we will outline how the bots were detected in the section “Suspicions raised from behavior” and how BGS and power players can detect them.

Video Evidence

Initial attack


BGS
The Alliance Office of statistics is based on Gateway, on Mahons Powerplay Capital. The system is of medium population, seeing high and constant traffic day to day. The Alliance Office of Statistics has for the past 2 years been managing and succeeding in our BGS operations, ensuring that high traffic and difficult scenarios don’t impede our progress


In May/June last year our home system came under a BGS attack. This was eminently an attack by design, not by accident, specifically targeting Alliance Office of Statistics (AOS) assets and systems.


The attackers adopted the anarchy faction and, without our noticing, took surface installations with large pads as a base for their push through trade and exploration data influence gains. Once they had established a foothold in the system, they pushed up the anarchy faction in an attempt to remove AOS as the system owner.
This is made evident by the below graph.
With Blue being our faction (AOS) and green being the first minor faction to attack us (Gateway Jet Brotherhood), this shows the gradual push for Jet brotherhood who began their push mid June, until they eventually forced war in August.

The Anarchy influence rose and peaked during the pend before the Non-combat activities block kicked in. We won the ensuing war by a landslide and took one of the 2 surface ports, and never heard from the Anarchy again.




Whoever was attacking switched strategy.
We assumed it was a player faction messing with us.


Powerplay


For the past year The Alliance has been suffering from continued 5C attacks on its Powerplay. The continued strategy is one that most power players will find very familiar.


Every week for the past week, we experience good consolidation vote numbers before the wednesday night in advance of the powerplay cycle tick. All at once a wave of players vote against our consolidation vote, and we end up going from ~85% consolidation to 75%.


We’re usually able to just hang and not prep systems, and if we suspect we won't hit our 75% target we outprep the loss making system that is regularly prepped.


That loss making system is Soholia. It is deep inside Mahon’s bubble and essentially hemorrhages CC, the Powerplay currency. Essentially this is a VERY bad system for us to be prepping.


Obviously we know of many newbies that join Mahon and decide to prep that system, but it's clear that a coordinated push to take Soholia is being made by some organization of players.

Suspicions raised from behaviour


By this time we knew we were under attack so one of our members started to scrutinise every unknown player heading through our Home system in an attempt to ascertain the culprits.
This included scanning players with Manifest scanners, Kill warrant scanners and Wake scanners to gleam as much information as possible.


A few things jumped out at us for around 6 different CMDRs (Names will not be shared to adhere to forum/reddit rules)




  • Their departure patterns were all identical
Take off from pad, take roughly 30 seconds to fly vertically upwards from the pad, align with the airlock and fly out at <100ms with gear down.​
Maintain heading to directly out of the airlock to roughly 10km, clear of the station mass lock and come to a complete stop, then align with the destination system.​
Raise gear, charge FSD while stationary.​
Full throttle and jump.​

  • Their builds were identical.
Cutters or Anacondas​
Most of the accounts were harmless rank​
All shield boosters and 1 point defence​
No other internals than cargo racks and shield generators​
Docking computer​

  • Always carrying:
3 types of cargo to the brim (probably to maximise BGS influence effects, the study of which is detailed here: https://forums.frontier.co.uk/showthread.php/357715-BGS-Trading-for-Influence)​
Passengers​
Preparation merits.​

  • No situational awareness
The CMDRs were not responding to comms in any manner.​
They would not deviate from their course, even when a player was in the way or they were being rammed​
They would effectively combat log, and leave the instance at the event of a Scan (including whilst docked on a pad), or coming under attack Immediately, most of the time. They would also log if they were stuck or loitering in the airlock (this included player scans and NPC scans detailed in the below video)​

  • Troll Player names like (paraphrasing) CMDR ILikeToTroll (not real don’t search) & Troll ship names such as “I Prep Soholia” and “Soholia for Mahon”




Our observations are detailed in this video here:

The CMDRs were found in nearby systems such as Farack, Indaol and also in Soholia, the loss making powerplay system close to Gateway.
Nearby systems - Passengers and trade are carried
Soholia - Preparation Merits.



Now by this time between the system influence caps being maxed every day despite strong opposition, and the odd behaviour, we were certain that these were not human players, and actually botted/scripted/automated CMDRs, attacking us. So we collated the evidence, watched as they pushed against us now with a different faction and waited until we thought we had sufficient evidence to take to Frontier.
We investigated Bot usage without Client manipulation and found that its not only easy to do, but it already exists.


These videos detail the ease with which you can use visual and audio cues to script bots in game.



Continued struggle


Before we delivered our data to FDev we fought against the bot attacks with our full force of players in our membership around mid september. By this time we were trying to reach expansion in our system but we could never hit over 70% influence. With the numbers we were throwing at Gateway this seemed strange. We were pushing 75-100 high influence accruing missions a day such as source missions, while also using Exploration data to our advantage. Global war and election states were also taken into account for all factions.
The Faction pushing against us at this point was Gateway Organisation. This faction is an elective one. The bots are unable to fight wars, it seems they’re not sophisticated enough to do so. Their plan as such was to push a faction that would engage in Elections only where by they only would fight us in trade, and non combat activities.
Reference below.


Eventually, a renewed push against us that was even more effective due to lost moral and lost members, we lost most of our influence around late September, which is when we decided to contact FDev prematurely with the small amount of evidence we collected.
To be clear this was a horrible but necessary move. This alerted the Bots to our knowledge of them. We were desperate and our faction was suffering. Our rams and occasional scans would have gone unnoticed, but the actions FDev took alerted them to our awareness of them as automated players, and we never saw them departing or behaving as they did in open again.

Reported to fdev


On Monday the 25th, september 2017 we filed a report to FDev of suspected bot and automation activity in the game. The report which can be seen below.




And eventually after tracking each day to see if the bots were still searchable in game, we found 2 had disappeared from search, the other 4 were not seen in open, and their continued push against us in Gateway had ended, Our consolidation vote hit 90% consecutively through the next 4 weeks with minimal 5th column preps into Soholia. Followed shortly by the ticket raised being closed.
The influence data supported this.


Second wave Bots


4 Weeks later we saw another push against us in Gateway, by the same faction that we’d previously fought against, Gateway Organisation. They also began attacking our BGS in another one of our systems by adopting yet another elective faction against us. We did end up losing control of this system as a result. The 4 bots we had noted that hadn’t been outright banned started showing up in our recent contacts lists again, parked in Dublin Citadel in Gateway.


FDev had soft banned the bots for 30 days.


At this point we had 15 suspected bots that included the 4 that hadn’t been fully removed from the game. Very occasionally would several of them fly in open from what we suspected was a mistake in their board flipping script. But generally they would never depart from the Station in open.


We would occasionally get a chance to scan them while they board flipped into open
Their builds would be exactly the same as previously, Anacondas or Cutters, Cargo racks with shield generators and boosters. And a docking computer. The Commanders names were all troll names still as well as the 4 original names we reported.


Gateway Orgs, influence spiked again with a renewed attack, near identical to the previous attack, and we started losing our prep/consolidation votes with us counter prepping a easy to avoid system.
Influence spike graphic


We began trying to collect video of the new bots (included in original linked video) and eventually filed a new report to FDev around December 12th. This report was a long exchange back and forth with FDev as they did a thorough investigation. They asked questions, we provided what answers we could.





This chart represents when we started tracking Soholia preps on cycle 121, cycle ending 21st september. We started tracking in anticipation of action from FDev and they delivered the following week.
Here you can see a drop in the final number of recorded merits in Soholia preps for the 4 weeks. The first drop seen was during the perceived grace period of the bots 30 day ban, with the first rise seemingly indicating they had returned to prepping Soholia.


The following rise can be explained by the bots losing their rating over the 4 weeks or altogether during the ban, they then slowly worked their way back up to rating 5 before the second dip on cycle 137 which was the second wave banning following a second report to FDev. The cycle of incremental increases after each ban continue to this day.


By January we were fatigued from being hit so hard with no action from FDev and we gave them a message; if something is not done soon, we would have to go public with the bot crisis. Two days later, all 15 bots were absent from game play and our BGS and Power Play returned to normal. 30 days later, 5 of those bots returned in game and started hitting our PP and BGS again.



Third wave “Baby” Bots


In January we began detecting a push again, in the same system they were attacking us in. One of our CMDRs parked a ship outside the main station and began observing new CMDRs board flipping, all in T6 ships. Many with similar troll names to the original bots, all Mahon pledged, all near identical loadouts.

We do not know how many, but the suspicion is strong that while the bot owners were banned on their 15 accounts, they purchased new ones. These ships were occasionally successfully scanned while board flipping, and observed to be carrying PP prep papers, and passengers. These new accounts AND the 5 senior accounts continue working against our Power Play and BGS to this day.

They will only earn money and rank and rep at an expedited rate with their 24 routines. We expect to see them in T9s soon once they have the credits.

January FDev held a sale on accounts at a highly discounted rate. This was during the 2nd 30 day ban wave against the 15 bot accounts.

Further down the line our battle extended outside of just gateway and to this day continues across our systems, as well as the maintained attack on our powerplay.

Over the months we developed techniques to counter the bots in BGS strategies, mostly by our understanding of how the bots operated. Blocking wars were our main counter, as the Bots cannot engage in wars for obvious reasons.

Since all the bots ran applications that reported CAPI data to Third party developer services , and were not using them anonymously , we were able to track their movements. (Their usage of these tools help the bots track their own location in addition to Journal Data, as well as keeping markets up to date to know what best or indeed worst to trade between stations).

We tracked the bots and their target systems, countering their movements and putting resources in where needed. This continued from the end of september up until February before 3.0 where the submitter identifiers were changed to randomised anonymised identifiers that change periodically. With that we have no way of accurately tracking them further.

We still fight what we believe are the bots, we still occasionally spot them board flipping and have no reason to believe they have given up their fight. The tactics used and the sheer scale of influence they move regularly indicate that despite us not seeing them in open unless they board flip, they still push against us and our struggle continues.

Ultimatum to FDev

FDev, This is hugely frustrating for the player base, we’ve demonstrated that the issue is widespread and now we’ve raised awareness I'm certain you’re going to see more stories like this one pop up.

What we want to see are better tools in game for detecting this kind of play.


  • Better investigative tools for FDev and more robust action taken on perpetrators of automated accounts
  • Better observational tools for players to detect others that may not be flying in open, that includes better station services that outline other docked players movements and actions
  • STOP SELLING THE GAME FOR £5! This is fueling the epidemic! You sell the game regularly at that price it makes it easy for these people to buy Powerplay and BGS ready accounts. All the Bot users need to do is program in a money making route and they can influence the BGS to no end.
Your game is one of a kind and it's disgraceful that people abuse it. This needs fixing ASAP.


You know what would help fixing this? Disentangling Open/Solo/Private BGS, and a 30 second "still in the world" mechanic after a hostile action against them (yes yes, p2p doesn't allow this supposedly i hear you ham fistedly smashing your keyboards now but it is true).
 
It's certainly looks that way, but please bare in mind the OPs post is more a timeline of events and shows proof and graphs of what kind of problem they are dealing with. This also serves as a way for the community to keep an eye out for such practices I the future, which will, in turn help FDev with thorough reporting. I feel like they've taken as far as they can alone and are now reaching out publically to raise awareness. NOT So much to level blame. Sadly though this has had a huge effect on the groups involved and contributed to burn out over it, so the damage is done, and their are hard feelings. :/
Dont get me wrong, this post comes from another discussion we have been having for a few days now. Just bear in mind that FD has the tools and knowledge to automatically identify the things these cmdrs did outside of the game. Also, don't take me wrong, but hte timeline of events includes 'contacting to FD about it', yet nothing serious has been done. I didn't know they had already sent such a detailled report before, hence I still think the same.
 
You know what would help fixing this? Disentangling Open/Solo/Private BGS, and a 30 second "still in the world" mechanic after a hostile action against them (yes yes, p2p doesn't allow this supposedly i hear you ham fistedly smashing your keyboards now but it is true).
How would creating three different game universes do anything constructive to alleviate the bot problem (or be anything except a terrible idea anyway)?

And if you know that a solution is impossible, why propose it anyway?
 
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Really OP?

People will lose time creating a BOT to manipulate a system like BGS? Or even powerplay?
I don't see the reason to spend time joing this causes, imagine working in a BOT and letting your computer ONLINE and wasting energy to make this (Makes no sense, really)

BGS means nothing, just minor faction names in systems, powerplay means even less... If people really earn something to make this but i don't see the point, sorry;
 
Really OP?

People will lose time creating a BOT to manipulate a system like BGS? Or even powerplay?
I don't see the reason to spend time joing this causes, imagine working in a BOT and letting your computer ONLINE and wasting energy to make this (Makes no sense, really)

BGS means nothing, just minor faction names in systems, powerplay means even less... If people really earn something to make this but i don't see the point, sorry;
Watch the first video, pay attention to how the bot moves it look as artificial as Big Trak did in 1979. No way there's a person behind the stick.
 
How would creating three different game universes do anything constructive to alleviate the bot problem (or be anything except a terrible idea anyway)?

And if you know that a solution is impossible, why propose it anyway?
I know I've been told it's impossible, I just refuse to believe it. I never said 3 universes, 2 would be fine. One for the people willing to accept the danger, risk, and fun of having your shady actions opposed, and one for the people who are afraid to face the consequences of their actions. I'm firmly in the camp that if your actions can't be opposed directly by the community at large, they should not affect the open BGS plain and simple.
 
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I know I've been told it's impossible, I just refuse to believe it. I never said 3 universes, 2 would be fine One for the people willing to accept the danger, risk, and fun of having your shady actions opposed, and one for the people who are afraid to face the consequences of their actions. I'm firmly in the camp that if your actions can't be opposed directly by the community at large, they should not affect the open BGS plain and simple.
Terrible ill conceived idea, which version of galnet would be cannon ?.

Stop worrying about people in other modes, it's a basic part of the games design. If it really annoys you research before purchasing next time.
 
I know I've been told it's impossible, I just refuse to believe it. I never said 3 universes, 2 would be fine One for the people willing to accept the danger, risk, and fun of having your shady actions opposed, and one for the people who are afraid to face the consequences of their actions. I'm firmly in the camp that if your actions can't be opposed directly by the community at large, they should not affect the open BGS plain and simple.

I agree- PG and solo should have no bearing at all on the BGS or Powerplay.

However, something doesn't suddenly become possible by squeezing one's eyes shut to the reality of what P2P is and isn't.
 
Really OP?

People will lose time creating a BOT to manipulate a system like BGS? Or even powerplay?
I don't see the reason to spend time joing this causes, imagine working in a BOT and letting your computer ONLINE and wasting energy to make this (Makes no sense, really)

BGS means nothing, just minor faction names in systems, powerplay means even less... If people really earn something to make this but i don't see the point, sorry;
Neither do we, and yet someone did it…
 
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