How Do You Cheat On The Helium Network?

This is a gen­er­al expla­na­tion of how gamers are steal­ing HNT on the net­work. This is not a “how to”. Most of us putting up Heli­um Hotspots have no idea how the sys­tem works. It can feel frus­trat­ing to be cheat­ed and not under­stand it. Let’s go through a few of the more com­mon meth­ods. These meth­ods are get­ting eas­i­er for Heli­um Inc (and the com­mu­ni­ty at large) to detect, but are still very dif­fi­cult to stop with a set of pro­gram­mat­ic rules in the code. 

Before you go howl­ing that I’m “giv­ing away the keys to the cas­tle”, please know I have run this by var­i­ous experts. There’s noth­ing in here that is top secret or will give gamers an advantage. 

Let’s start with what cheaters usu­al­ly tar­get, which is Wit­ness rewards. A Hotspot earns HNT based most­ly (~75%) on how often it Wit­ness­es Bea­cons. This is doc­u­ment­ed over on Heli­um’s blog, here.

The obvi­ous incen­tive is to Wit­ness as much as you can. Most of us do that by get­ting our anten­nas in the right loca­tion and up high to pro­vide awe­some cov­er­age, often at con­sid­er­able expense and effort. Some mem­bers of the com­mu­ni­ty cheat. Here’s an exam­ple of a black­list­ed Hotspot’s wit­ness reward break­down (cour­tesy of the Hotspot­ty app for the visual).

Now, to be clear, just because a Hotspot is earn­ing a huge amount of rewards from Wit­ness­ing does­n’t auto­mat­i­cal­ly mean it’s cheat­ing. It’s just one of a few warn­ing signs. 

In con­trast, here’s a more nor­mal break­down of what rewards look like. 

Gamers cheat in 3 main ways: Atten­u­a­tion, Wit­ness Stuff­ing, and Sup­ple­men­tary Wit­ness­ing. Those can also be split into Hard­ware and Soft­ware hacks. Hard­ware hacks are ones using hard­ware, like an atten­u­a­tor, or anten­na trick­ery. Soft­ware hacks exploit chang­ing the com­mu­ni­ca­tion (manip­u­lat­ing the meta­da­ta) between the pack­et for­warder and the miner. 

Yep, I’ma explain all this. Let’s start with Atten­u­a­tion, which is a hard­ware cheat.

The valid­i­ty of a bea­con is deter­mined by com­par­ing the strength of the bea­con as received to what it should have been the­o­ret­i­cal­ly. If the out­put pow­er of the radio is known, (the native radio pow­er out­put minus the cable loss plus the anten­na gain) it’s a straight­for­ward equa­tion to cal­cu­late what the sig­nal strength should be on the receiv­ing end.

So, how do you cheat that? One of the most com­mon ways is to use hard­ware. You put mul­ti­ple hotspots in a room and attach “atten­u­a­tors” to their anten­nas. Atten­u­a­tors decrease the sig­nal by some known amount; say 1 dB, or 5 dB, or 10 dB etc. Gamers will false­ly assert where the hotspots are, cal­cu­late what the received sig­nal strength should be at that dis­tance, and attach an atten­u­a­tor to the anten­na to pro­duce that result. 

It’s fair­ly sim­ple to do at scale, and with a few tech­ni­cal bits of wiz­ardry to cloak the loca­tion of the hotspot, dif­fi­cult to stop. It’s not, how­ev­er, dif­fi­cult to SEE. In order for all the hotspots in the room to receive the “cor­rect­ly altered” sig­nals, they need to be placed at unusu­al­ly reg­u­lar dis­tances from each oth­er on the map. You’ve seen that if you’ve ever looked at Heli­um Explor­er maps and seen “too per­fect” deployments.

This was the biggest prob­lem Heli­um Inc (NOT the Heli­um Com­mu­ni­ty at large) had to solve in late 2021, when they moved uni­lat­er­al­ly and in secret in order to deny thou­sands of Hotspots HNT who were clear­ly gam­ing with this tech­nique. Heli­um Inc could see it, but they felt the com­mu­ni­ty could­n’t move fast enough to stop it. The ethics of that deci­sion were hot­ly debat­ed. For now, let’s just focus on the cheaters.

The sec­ond cheat­ing method is known as Wit­ness Stuff­ing. This is a soft­ware cheat. It’s where you take a group of Hotspots that are all in the same gen­er­al area and share all of the Bea­cons any of them Wit­ness between them. In essence, when any one of them Wit­ness­es a Bea­con, it turns around and “stuffs” that same bea­con into the rest of the group of Hotspots. The rest of the group does­n’t have to actu­al­ly Wit­ness that bea­con in order to earn from it.

That mul­ti­plies the pow­er of one Wit­nessed Beacon.

Remem­ber, if a Bea­con is Wit­nessed by more than 14 hotspots, the rewards are ran­dom­ly assigned to only 14 Hotspots out of that group. A Hotspot can only get reward­ed one time per Bea­con Wit­nessed. In this case, the cheater is increas­ing the chance that one of the Hotspots it’s con­nect­ed to will be in that group of 14 winners. 

A cheater can “juice this up” by plac­ing extra pack­et for­warders, not Hotspots, to report even more bea­cons. A pack­et for­warder is the radio part of the hotspot (as opposed to the com­put­er, or min­er part) of the Hotspot. By using pack­et for­warders to share dupli­cat­ed Wit­nessed Bea­cons, the gamer is run­ning a vari­a­tion of wit­ness stuff­ing. It’s a very clever move, gives a clear advan­tage, and is com­plete­ly dishonest.

As a point of clar­i­fi­ca­tion, just using mul­ti­ple pack­et for­warders does­n’t make you a cheater. For exam­ple, you might have mul­ti­ple direc­tion­al anten­nas on a build­ing top, each with a pack­et for­warder, all send­ing their Wit­ness­es to one min­er. That’s prob­a­bly more effort and tech­no­log­i­cal exper­tise than any­one should go to, but it would­n’t be cheating.

For now, I’d con­sid­er the fol­low­ing to be cheat­ing:
1) Using pack­et for­warders to stuff copies of pack­ets into min­ers
2) Using mul­ti­ple hotspots per pack­et for­warder to stuff pack­ets into miners. 

That brings us to a sim­i­lar grift, which is Sup­ple­men­tary Wit­ness­ing. In this case, you have mul­ti­ple Hotspots hooked up to one well placed anten­na. Through the use of radio geek­ery to manip­u­late the sig­nal strength, you take any sig­nal received from that anten­na and “report it twice”, once to each Hotspot. 

Remem­ber that only 14 Hotspots can earn from a bea­coned pack­et. If 50 hotspot Wit­ness a pack­et, only 14 will get reward­ed. If you can “sup­ple­ment” your chances to wit­ness that pack­et by adding an extra Hotspot into that poten­tial win­ners group, you can cheat a true provider of cov­er­age out of their right­ful chance to earn HNT.

This method allows both (or all) Hotspots con­nect­ed to the anten­na the chance to earn rewards. This is some­times referred to as “buy­ing extra tick­ets to the raf­fle.” In addi­tion to steal­ing by adding unfair prob­a­bil­i­ty to earn­ing more HNT for a giv­en anten­na place­ment, it’s not use­ful to the Net­work. That’s because two Hotspots hooked to one anten­na pro­vide dupli­cate cov­er­age.

Keep in mind, “dupli­cate” is not the same as “redun­dant”. Dupli­cate is an EXACT match. Redun­dan­cy is a back­up. An exam­ple of redun­dan­cy is you and your neigh­bor a block away are both pro­vid­ing cov­er­age. That cov­er­age is slight­ly dif­fer­ent, but over­lap­ping. If one of you goes down, the oth­er can cov­er, but you get reward­ed for pro­vid­ing your own unique coverage.

Dupli­cate cov­er­age is using two machines to do the job of one. It’s a waste of resources and sucks HNT unfair­ly out of the reward pool.

So, those are the big 3 ways gamers have been cheat­ing. None of them are dif­fi­cult for experts to see, but they can be very dif­fi­cult for the com­mu­ni­ty to stop. This is, in part what HIP 40 is about; mak­ing up a list of cheaters that the com­mu­ni­ty agrees on, and stop­ping those cheaters from earn­ing. It won’t be per­fect, but it’ll be an excel­lent step in the right direc­tion of a robust Net­work, able to prop­er­ly reward good actors and pun­ish bad ones.

There are oth­er HIPs being devel­oped to stop gam­ing, check out HIP 42 and HIP 44. The DeWi Foun­da­tion is extreme­ly inter­est­ed in com­bat­ting gam­ing and has enough mon­ey to buy sev­er­al small coun­tries AND pay you to fix gam­ing. If you’re an anti-gam­ing wiz­ard, or a for­mer crook who’s ready to put your skills towards use­ful con­struc­tion, con­sid­er apply­ing for a grant.

If you’d like to watch a video of gam­ing experts dis­cussing the HIPs men­tioned above, we record­ed a live ses­sion here. Keep in mind this was record­ed right before the exis­tence of a denylist was made pub­lic, and that denylist had NOT been shared with these experts. Heli­um Inc kept it top secret, prob­a­bly to the detri­ment of the efforts to stop gaming.

The attempt to stop gam­ing is one of cat & mouse. We’ll nev­er hem ’em all up, but we can keep it to a tol­er­a­ble lev­el if we work togeth­er. If you’d like to report a sus­pect­ed cheat­ing hotspot, head over to and keep the spot­light on ’em!

If you’d like to stay in the know when it comes to the lat­est in Heli­um, con­sid­er join­ing the Gris­tle Crüe, where we meet week­ly to dis­cuss what’s going on and how to best build the Net­work. Rock on!


12 responses to “How Do You Cheat On The Helium Network?”

  1. Dude, Well Done.

    This is infor­ma­tion we should all have avail­able to us. Not for mali­cious intent, but for a bet­ter under­stand­ing of how the net­work, and min­ing works.

    You the Man.

  2. This is long­time over­due. Now add a way to claim a removal of that list by prov­ing you cleared the trick­ery or you nev­er tricked in the first place an make it pub­lic and trans­par­ent and we might have a new deal with the community.

  3. Matthew Van Eps Avatar
    Matthew Van Eps

    Great sum­ma­ry! Thanks for writ­ing this out.

  4. Mohamed Ghasoub Avatar
    Mohamed Ghasoub

    Wow man thanks for that, extrem­ley infor­ma­tive. I was won­der­ing what that was all about.
    Sil­ly me think­ing that plac­ing your assert­ing your hotspot a few meters away from the actu­al loca­tion would do it… that or adding a few meteres to the anten­na height! 

    What are your thoughts on those two and how frowned upon they actu­al­ly are?

    Thanks a ton!!

  5. For now, the ele­va­tion does­n’t appear to be tak­en into account. You can rea­son­ably mis-assert by up to 150m for rea­sons of privacy.

  6. Michael Pilkington Avatar
    Michael Pilkington

    I’m just get­ting start­ed and just got 15 of these hotspots. What mat­ters at this point is that I not some­how get false­ly viewed as cheat­ing when I am not. From what I read here… any cheat­ing done would be done inten­tion­al­ly. Noth­ing would be viewed as cheat­ing when you real­ly do not intend to. So I will view the details as to this arti­cle later.…after deployment.

  7. Michael Pilk­ing­ton does­n’t have the right idea. The absence of spe­cif­ic intent to break a rule does­n’t affect whether or not you have bro­ken a rule. If the excuse (“I did­n’t know that was­n’t per­mit­ted”) is believ­able, then it only is rel­e­vant to pun­ish­ment. You still broke the rule. Maybe you just get a warn­ing, or are only banned for a short time, instead of being banned for all time. I think Nik has done us a ser­vice, and we should thank him.

  8. Where I can find details about the 150m you’re allowed to miss-assert loca­tion? Why are they so vague on this details? These to me are very important.

  9. Hi Chris, there aren’t any details on that. Tech­ni­cal­ly, you should assert exact­ly where you are. I think mis-assert­ing with­in 150m for pri­va­cy rea­sons is fine and so far I haven’t seen any neg­a­tive reper­cus­sions from that.

  10. Also, they can nev­er per­fect­ly guess your loca­tion from radio wiz­ardry, because they can’t take in account for trees and nat­ur­al obstruc­tions, nor whether your indoor or out­door, etc.

  11. Plus oth­er radio inter­fer­ence, there is so many vari­ables that they can not pre­dict. Only if they were phys­i­cal­ly at the loca­tion with a much of very high tech radio equip­ment could they fig­ure that out. 

    How­ev­er, map­pers are clos­ing this gap.

  12. Who the hell buys 15 min­ers when if you run them legit­i­mate­ly you will NEVER get your return on cap­i­tal? I got into the project because I thought it had great mer­it and I could con­tribute to the com­mu­ni­ty. How­ev­er its only when you invest and go down the rab­bit hole, you find its full of scams, rip-offs and unfair­ness. Such a shame and will lead to the blow-up of the project.

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