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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Big Online Prize? Big Online Hacks.

CNBC said Wednesday that it was investigating claims that people playing its online "Million Dollar Portfolio Challenge" may have engaged in "unusual trading."

The idea — besides drumming up publicity — was to teach the contestants that CNBC called "aspiring moguls" how to trade stocks, not how to be at the center of Wall Street's next financial scandal.About 375,000 people entered the competition, which started in March, creating more than 1.5 million mock portfolios of stocks they bought with "CNBC Bucks."

Although stock picks were made with fake money, the $1-million prize will be the real thing."There are always going to be cheaters. You can try your best to make it fair for everyone, but sometimes a few people are going to try to find ways around it," said Timothy Sykes, a hedge fund manager and blogger who offered players advice during an evening feature that aired regularly on CNBC. (The feature had a decidedly light air. One night, according to a video clip on Sykes' website, three female models helped him by holding up signs of stock charts. "Suddenly, I feel woefully overdressed," that evening's CNBC host, a woman, said as Sykes introduced the models.)

Several contestants complained that trades made by some of the 20 finalists violated contest rules, CNBC said in a statement, and the channel then launched an investigation.
-- CNBC probes stock-game claims | Chicago Tribune

Remember The Da Vinci Code Contest? Or specifically how the final solutions were posted online as people finished them? Apparently there was a winner, although you basically have to e-mail Sony (as per the contest rules) for them to cough up a name. There was never any word on how the cheating was handled, if at all, or the prizes handed out.

Here's the thing about such concepts: security is hard. I wore a security hat for about three months at a large insurance company and I gotta tell you - it's nerve wracking dealing with those crazy intertubes. The thing is - the client is so incredibly untrustworthy and you have no choice but to deal with it. Can it say, take screenshots and upload them where you don't want them? Oh yeah. Worse, with the say the stock game, the Internet provides a distributed method for cheaters to organize. It's possible stock numbers were inflated just by coordinated purchases via networks of family and friends.

A friendly note from a long time gamer to companies going down this road: there will be cheaters, and there will be griefers. There always have been. There always will be. If you wave money around, there will be more. Plan well, plan ahead and good luck.

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