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Hackers sack Diablo II gaming heroes

Over the past week, cybervandals have systematically hacked and stolen player accounts on Battle.Net, the free multiple-player service run by Blizzard Entertainment.

Action-oriented fantasy gaming such as Blizzard Entertainment's "Diablo II" has long been known as "hack and slash," but now it has another reason to sport the moniker.

Over the past week, cybervandals have systematically hacked and stolen player accounts on Battle.Net, the free multiple-player service run by Blizzard, according to posts on the company's Diablo II Realms bulletin board. Each account contains up to eight characters that a player can use to battle others.

Players have been livid about the loss, scowling over their scalped sorceresses and plain peeved over the pilfered paladins.

One player posting on the bulletin board aimed his comments at the digital thieves.

"I hope you get this message you sad excuse for human being," the player wrote. "You know what you have stolen from my account, and I hope you can live with yourself for what you did."

Others flamed Blizzard for its lack of security on Battle.Net.

"Blizzard had better be restoring some backups right now or they have one hell of a mess on their hands," wrote a player who used the handle "Unknown Shadow" and claimed to have lost a "level 87" barbarian--one of the character classes that can be played in the game. "What happened? Too many accounts seem to be affected for it to be a one-person hack job."

The player also discovered that he apparently had been logged on from Europe with character names such as "blizzrdsucks"--evidence that the account had, indeed, been hacked.

In a Jan. 1 posting, the company admitted that characters and items had disappeared, but it did not admit that the system had been exploited.

"During the past week, some players have experienced character losses," wrote the company. "Instances have ranged from hardcore characters dying to the loss of items, skill points, and experience in normal characters."

The company, a division of Havas Interactive, promised to turn back time and resurrect any dead characters on Jan. 8. The characters will be given the levels and experience that they had possessed as of Dec. 19.

In its statement, Blizzard neither said why the characters had disappeared nor attributed the losses to any bug. Company representatives could not be reached for comment.

Another person posting to the bulletin boards partially blamed the players themselves, hinting that the "hacking" was actually more of a con job than a hijack.

"People who send you emails to get your password, and do lame things like that, are not hackers," said a player using the handle "Axynter." "They are only wannabes that unfortunately succeed in some cases due to the constant stupidity that some people who play on (Battle.Net) show."

While the stealing of characters may seem at most like a harmless prank, real money could be involved.

Many high-level items used in the game, such as axes, swords and rings, are being sold on eBay for up to $50, and occasionally more, leaving open the possibility that the accounts have been stolen for cash.

Many players had obviously thought about that and put a dollar amount on their losses. "I just lost about $1200 worth of characters and items!...Do something!!!!!" said "Unknown Shadow."

Others seemed amused that the virtual world could mean so much to so many.

One such player's advice: "Hey, it's only a game. Don't take it seriously!"