Let’s Just Calm Down About Odlanor

One of the big items in poker news this week is the discovery of a nasty little bit of malware called Odlanor. The trojan doesn’t shut down nuclear defense systems or anything, but simply takes screen shots of poker players’ PokerStars or Full Tilt windows and sends them to an unscrupulous cheater who then proceeds to have a huge advantage over those players at cash game tables with the knowledge of their hole cards. It’s not good, but it’s not the end of the world.

Since the news of the malware came out, some in the poker media have taken somewhat of a “sky is falling” mentality, calling for immediate action by the online poker industry in order to stop the scourge that is Odlanor. Over on CardplayerLifestyle.com, excellent poker writer Robbie Strazynski expressed the opinion that Odlanor, even if it doesn’t infect anyone else’s computers, could strangle the online poker industry just by its sheer existence. He wrote:

Though I can’t speak for anyone else, I’m reasonably certain that as news of the Odlanor malware continues to spread (it has gone WAY beyond poker media at this point, being reported by mainstream news outlets such as the BBC and Daily Mail) more and more online poker players simply won’t bother logging in to play. I’ll bet we’ll see a statistically significant decline in player traffic once PokerScout.com releases their latest numbers.

No, the news hasn’t gone “WAY” beyond poker media. Yes, it has been picked up by some UK outlets, some significant ones at that, but that’s about it. And nothing in about a week. I would also bet that there will not be anything even close to a “statistically significant” decline in cash game traffic because of it (not that we would know how Odlanor has affected the numbers, anyway).

Strazynski goes on to use Odlanor as a way to take up the cause against the use of third-party Heads-Up Displays (HUDs) in online poker. There isn’t even a connection given to relate HUDs to Odlanor, just that HUDs could scare recreational players away, too.

the end is near homer simpsonOver on PokerUpdate.com, Jennifer Newell, another writer whose work I have enjoyed, took a more measured approach, but still called for poker sites to do something about Odlanor. She did link HUDs and the trojan properly, saying that if poker players didn’t download third-party software such as HUDs, Odlanor wouldn’t spread. After all, it was attached to installations of such programs when those programs were downloaded via torrent or shady sites that deal in pirating software.

Both writers cited Dr. Avi Rubin, Professor of Computer Science and Technical Director of the Information Security Institute at Johns Hopkins University, who has been working on poker software that would help eliminate problems presented by malware such as Odlanor. Rubin’s software would display hole cards on a player’s smart phone, rather than on the computer screen. That way, if there was malware taking screen shots on the personal computer, it wouldn’t get any hole card info.

The problem I have with these calls to action is that they are unnecessarily panicked. To quote Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, “R. E. L. A. X.”

Odlanor is not going to bring down the online poker industry. We’re not all going to see our bankrolls drained by mystery opponents who can see our hole cards.

There is a big difference between Odlanor and the UltimateBet / Absolute Poker cheating scandal from several years ago. In that scandal, poker site insiders could see players’ hole cards because they manipulated software on the server side. That was awful. There was nothing players could do about it. In the case of Odlanor, though, all people have to do is not pirate software. That’s it. If you want to download permitted third-party software, download it from the developer or other legitimate, trusted source. Don’t torrent it. Don’t download it from a Russian warez site. Odlanor doesn’t swim around the internet seeking out targets. Poker players invite it in themselves through irresponsible downloading and internet security practices.

Odlanor is bad, that is a fact. I would not want it on my computer. But you know what? I’m not going to get it on my computer. Because I’m not a thief and I’m not an idiot. There is absolutely no reason to panic.

And to use this as ammunition in the crusade against HUDs is just laughable. Other than HUD software (and other third-party software) being used as the vehicle for Odlanor, there is no relationship between the two. Using a discussion of malware as a way to attack HUD use is like when a Republican presidential candidate is asked a question about what he likes most about Iowa and responds by saying, “The people. The people here are just lovely. And by the way, if that heathen Barack Obama gets his way, they will all die within the year.”

I could go on about HUDs, but I may reserve my thoughts on that for another piece.

No, the poker sites don’t have to do anything about Odlanor beyond doing their best to ferret out the cheaters, which they do already (I’m not saying they always catch them, as that is difficult, but the poker sites do try). A pop-up message or an alert in the lobby to educate players? That might not be a bad idea. But they don’t have to make radical changes to their software or policies. Dr. Rubin’s idea is novel and interesting and is certainly worth a look, but I don’t think it’s something that we all desperately need.

Malware, Odlanor or otherwise, once again, is bad. No doubt about that. But it hasn’t swept through the poker world yet and if we all just download software responsibly, everything will be just fine. We’re not about to witness global thermonuclear war. But if you’re still scared and feel like the only winning move is not to play, how about a nice game of chess?


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