Hilltendo is a Russian created anti-Hillary Clinton flash game that was released weeks before the election, partly in hopes of smearing the candidate’s name. In a report by CNN, new details surrounding the game’s origins and intents illuminate the nefarious lengths that Russian trolls went to in exploiting their users.
Utilizing standard flash game mechanics, Hilltendo consists of three levels. In Level One, players must help Hillary delete as many classified emails as possible before she is caught. In Level Two, players participate in a mini-game that requires them to collect money from the Arab states as it falls from the sky, while dodging bombs along the way. Finally, In Level Three, Hillary must throw the Constitution as far as possible. This game was played nearly 20,000 times, according to its website.
The games’ anti-Clinton stance and ostentatious gameplay is not the reason it stands out in intrigue. In fact, there were several heavily political games that came out pre-election. From Mr. President!, a game where players attempt to body-slam Donald Trump in hopes of saving him from a bullet, to GOP Arcade, a website entirely dedicated to anti-Republican games that parody classics, taking a jab at a political figure in order to make the election slightly more enjoyable was anything but rare. What makes Hilltendo stand out is the tracking software utilized within it that zeroes in on those who play it. According to several programmers and cyber-security experts who examined the code at the request of CNN, the game easily tracks users’ social media behavior and targets them with specific advertisements.
Such a phenomenon is neither new or surprising. The Russian programmers who designed the code for this website sought out to make a controversial game that would receive clicks, and generate user interactivity. This explains why they chose to make an internet browser game, considering how accessible they are, as no downloads are required to play. Various websites aim to monetize their content discreetly without warning their userbase, as seen prominently with the increasing popularity of cryptocurrency browser mining extensions such as Coinhive. This inconspicuous manner of monetizing websites is egregious, and potentially devastating to users’ hardware. Coinhive, for instance, allows individuals to monetize their websites by using their users’ CPU power to mine cryptocurrency. This has long-term damaging effects on users’ CPUs, and causes an overall reduction in their hardwares’ longevity. According to CNN’s discussion with Brian Moore, the developer of GOP Arcade, a game like Hilltendo is incredibly easy to produce, and can be made in as little as 12 hours.
CNN was able to find that Hilltendo was linked specifically to a Kremlin-affiliated group due to the fact that the hosting company owned various other anti-Clinton websites that were previously identified by the U.S. Justice Department. Luckily, the game was not widely shared on Twitter, meaning fewer individuals were targeted. Although the game did pique the curiosity of users after being discussed on the popular website Imgur, the fact that the game was played less than 20,000 times means it’s probably safe to say it did not gain the massive traction it sought. Regardless, other browser games possessing the same kind of detestable scheme could achieve greater success, and should be treated with appropriate caution and respect by cyber-security experts and users alike.
Found deep within Hilltendo’s code appeared the phrase “kek kek”, which is the translation of the acronym “LOL” when read aloud by members of the Horde in World of Warcraft. In a jab to instigate mockery at users, these programmers knowingly infringed upon the security and privacy of those who played their game with little to no recourse. Considering that this ploy was likely accomplished with relative easy, it is entirely possible that more instances like this could occur in the future, unless users fight to put an end to the exploitation.