Poker rooms respond to online security questions

After the Absolute Poker situation came to light, there was an almost deafening silence from the rest of the online poker world.

Some professional players, especially those who play online extensively, made their viewpoints known, but for the most part, the major online poker rooms didn't make haste to reassure their customers that their security was strong enough to prevent a repetition of the Absolute scandal.

With that in mind, I decided to take on a little experiment. I e-mailed a list of questions to several of the most popular online poker sites. The responses varied but were reassuring in general.

The questions pertained directly to what allegedly happened at Absolute. I asked the sites if they had security or software procedures in place to prevent outside players from looking at hole cards (one of the major security breaches in the Absolute situation).

I also inquired about their policies on employees playing on the sites, their procedures for investigating allegations of irregularities on their sites and their vigilance with regard to "out of the ordinary" play on the site. Site staff responded within a few days, and what they said indicated that many of them are concerned about what occurred at Absolute.

On the down side, Party Poker was least responsive of the sites I wrote to. Its customer service department merely replied with a simple link to the FAQ section of their Web site.

This was not surprising, though; because Party Poker no longer accepts U.S.-based customers, an e-mail from an American player is not likely going to elicit as much help as one from, say, a European player.

partypoker150x84.pngThat said, Party Poker's FAQ section did contain a fair amount of information on "game fairness and integrity" in answer to potential questions from players.

The second online room to respond, Full Tilt Poker, answered my questions much more directly. Adam, of the Security and Fraud division of Full Tilt, replied in an e-mail that went into great detail regarding the site's fraud prevention mechanisms.

He stated, "We wish to assure you that keeping our games safe and secure is of paramount importance to Full Tilt Poker. Our software was developed on this principle, and we continue to work to ensure this is the case. Due to the potential security risks, we made sure there was no way for a user, internally or externally, to see another player's hole cards in real time.

mcWGPFTP-New-Logo-Resizing150x84white.jpg"We do store hole card information, though not in real time, so our Security and Investigations Team can later review any suspicious or questionable activity. In over three years of dealing cards, there has never been a security breach on Full Tilt Poker."

Furthermore, according to Adam, Full Tilt's security team continually monitors the site for potential issues.

"We work hard around the clock to ensure the highest integrity and security of our games. Rest assured we investigate any suspicions from our players that someone may be using prohibited software on our site. Our security team is working 24/7 to ensure our players are playing in a fair environment."

Next on the list of responders was PokerStars; they were adamant that what happened at Absolute could not occur on their site.

Stuart from their Support Team said, "We recognize that the online discussion may make some people generally doubt the security of other online poker sites. PokerStars' software was developed under strict security controls. Here are some facts about the PokerStars software and its development.

"In the early days of software development, the concept of having a program that could view hole cards live in order to help testing was discussed. [We] explicitly decided against that idea, specifically to avoid any potential problems like the one that is being discussed in the forums. That decision stands, and no such software has ever been developed in PokerStars software to view hole cards live in real time."

1414134123Stuart went on to describe how the site handles the necessary monitoring of hole cards.

"PokerStars does record all of the hole cards in all real-money hands. This is an important tool to help us investigate fraud and collusion. However, this information is not accessible to anyone until after the conclusion of the hand; it is not transmitted to our database until all action is completed and the pot has been awarded.

"To be clear: Nobody at PokerStars can see or know the hole cards of any hand in progress. Nobody in senior management, none of the software developers, no support representatives. Nobody at all."

He then revealed the method PokerStars uses to manage changes to software, to reduce the risk of it being compromised internally.

"All software updates are reviewed by several people before being deployed. All sensitive changes are also personally reviewed by the chief software architect to help ensure they are stable and secure. In our company history of more than six years, we have had no indication of any breach that would allow anyone to see the hole cards of other players.

"We are aware that there are some programs that claim to make it possible to see other players' cards. We have investigated many of these programs and have not found any that do what they claim to do. Some of them are actually malware programs that compromise the security of whoever installs the software. But mostly they are simply scams; attempts to steal money from people who believe incorrectly that they will get a competitive edge. In truth, they do not compromise PokerStars security.

"We have a large team of Poker Specialists in our Support Team who review all suspicious situations and escalate to the Game Security team if they find anything, which in turn will escalate to the senior management team if any serious problems are found. The security and integrity of our games is of paramount importance to PokerStars."

Finally, the sister site of Absolute, Ultimate Bet, chimed in with their response. Edwing with the Customer Support team commented, "Ultimate Bet has been dealing cards on the Internet since the year 2000 and we have implemented strong safety measures to ensure the trust and security of our customers."

The representative went on to comment, "We take the security of our system at Ultimate Bet very seriously. Whenever you access our web site or game any confidential information passed between us is encrypted. Our web site uses secure server technology to ensure that when you perform a cash-out, access hand histories, make deposits etc., your communications are protected using the same technology as online banking sites. All communications between your computer and our servers are also encrypted using public/private key encryption. These keys are changed frequently."

Edwing ended the e-mail with an assurance that Ultimate Bet's security procedures were rigorous.

"Please rest assure that we follow up in any wrong playing offenders. We strive to maintain a friendly and pleasant atmosphere for our players as yourself [sic]," he said.

Judging by this little experiment, the major poker rooms have, at the minimum, heard the uproar from forums and poker news sites regarding the question of online security brought up by the Absolute Poker incident.

Overall, it appears the major players in the online poker world have been paying attention and are on top of the issue. It looks like it just may be safe to play online without losing sleep over your favorite room's security measures.

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