Frequently Asked Questions about PunkBuster Services

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28 Oct 2008, 13:01


What is all this about new PunkBuster services?

Beginning with PunkBuster client version 1.500, we have extended the PunkBuster Anti-Cheat system to operate without the requirement to run PunkBuster supported games with Administrator privileges when running under Windows 2000, XP, or Vista. In order to do this, we have developed new Windows service components to work with the PunkBuster system. PunkBuster will automatically begin using the new service components on supported systems. To manually install/uninstall the components, users may use our PBSVC Setup Program. However, uninstalling the new service components will disable PunkBuster and may prevent playing on PunkBuster servers. PBSVC can be downloaded from our local download area. Once the PnkBstrA service is running along with a new PB client version 1.500 and higher, running PB enabled games under Windows 2000, XP or Vista no longer requires Administrator privileges.

Since the new components have been installed, I now get kicked from PunkBuster servers for "handshaking failed" or "Losing Key Packets", how can I fix that?

Some other software programs such as virus scanners, firewalls and Internet security software packages are suspicious of any new services and kernel drivers when they are first released. Some of these will block our new components thereby causing the "Losing Key Packets" kicking. Until these various packages are updated to correctly identify PnkBstrA.exe, PnkBstrB.exe, and PnkBstrK.sys as components of the PunkBuster Anti-Cheat System, players who experience PunkBuster kicks due to these conflicts need to either manually adjust the settings of the other software running on their system or disable the other software while playing on PunkBuster enabled servers. The new PunkBuster components make use of network resources and also frequently update files in the Windows system folders. This activity triggers warnings or blocks by some other security programs, some of which consider all unknown programs as threats or malware. Our new components are simply extensions of the existing PunkBuster system using new services and kernel software drivers, and are each signed with Verisign / Authenticode digital signatures for verifiable authenticity purposes. Most major security packages do not block our new components; users with other software that causes these conflicts should contact the vendor of their security package and request an update to correct this conflict.

Why is all this necessary?

Starting with Windows Vista, there is a greater focus on security (which is a good thing). Unfortunately, however, with this focus comes a bit of complexity. In order for games having PunkBuster integrated to be more secure, the part of PunkBuster that needs full access to the computer for scanning purposes now must run all the time at the system level. This is necessary due to new Microsoft requirements for gaming under Windows.

Are the new components optional?

Starting with PB Client version 1.700, the new components are required. Uninstalling and/or disabling the new components will cause PunkBuster to stop working correctly and will cause frequent kicking from PunkBuster enabled servers.

Do I have to mess with this for every PunkBuster enabled game I play?

No, these components are designed to work with all PunkBuster enabled games installed on the computer. You only have to run PBSVC Setup once to get the PnkBstrA service installed and running. However, old versions of PunkBuster prior to version 1.500 do not know how to make use of the new components.

I'm not really that deep into computers, what is a Windows service component?

The various flavors of Windows operating systems have used service components for years to run programs "in the background". When you boot up into Windows, several services are loaded and started that you may not even be aware of. Services are supposed to be designed to nicely coexist with other programs and services running on the computer. Common service components include the Print Spooler service which handles the spooling of print jobs to the printer and the Automatic Updates service which notifies you when new Windows updates are ready to be downloaded/installed. The new PunkBuster service component PnkBstrA is designed to work under Windows 2000, XP, and Vista.

So does that mean PunkBuster no longer supports older flavors of Windows?

PunkBuster currently runs under older flavors the same as it did before, by requiring that the game be run as an Administrator user or equivalent.

Why do these new services continue to run after I stop playing the game?

In order to fully support running a PunkBuster enabled game as a limited (non-Administrator) user, the services must be running all the time after they are installed.

Is this new stuff going to make my computer slower?

Every running service, program and driver consumes computer resources. All PunkBuster components are designed to be efficient in that regard. When not playing a PunkBuster enabled game, the PunkBuster services are in "sleep mode" which means they are idling and waiting for a game with PunkBuster to be fired up. While playing on a PunkBuster enabled server, the new PunkBuster components are designed to use as much spare cpu power as is available during gameplay without draining too much power that would be used by the game itself. Newer systems having multiple cpus or a multi-core cpu provide an additional efficiency boost for the new components.

Why do I have to run PBSVC as an administrator?

Since PBSVC is installing a system-wide service, it needs to be running with Administrator rights during the installation process. That means you have to log in as an Administrator user before running PBSVC. Under Windows Vista, you also have to tell Windows that you want to run this specific program as an Administrator. To do that, right-click your mouse on the PBSVC icon and choose Properties from the pop-up menu. Then click the Compatibility tab and check the box that says "Run this program as an administrator" then click the OK button.

Do these new components support 64 bit flavors of Windows?

Yes, beginning with PB Client version 1.700.

I am fairly deep into computers, where can I get more advanced info on this?

Start with the questions and answers below. We tried to keep the basic stuff near the top of the FAQ.

I'm a server administrator, how does all this new stuff affect me?

These changes are client side only. Server operators and administrators only need to make sure their PunkBuster servers have open communication with our master servers so that they can auto-update to the latest versions of PunkBuster as they are released. So as long as your firewalls, ACLs, etc. are configured to allow your PB enabled servers to auto-update, nothing else is needed at the server for the new service and driver components.

What exactly does the PnkBstrA service do?

We have moved part of PunkBuster's auto-update functionality into the PnkBstrA service. This service is used by PunkBuster to update other PunkBuster components in the background while users are playing our supported games with PunkBuster enabled. By moving this functionality and others into services and drivers, the part of PunkBuster that runs inside the game no longer needs Administrator rights.

What other components does PnkBstrA update?

There are currently two other new components, another service called PnkBstrB and a kernel driver called PnkBstrK. These are not installed by the PBSVC Setup Program. They are installed and/or updated on the fly by PnkBstrA when a game is launched with PunkBuster enabled. PnkBstrB and PnkBstrK help PunkBuster look for cheats while users are playing on PunkBuster enabled servers.

Do any of these components try to hide or spy on my system?

No, all components of PunkBuster are designed to operate according to our Privacy Policy. We do not collect personal information. The PnkBstrA and PnkBstrB service components are installed into the Windows system folder (usually c:\windows\system32\) as PnkBstrA.exe and PnkBstrB.exe respectively. The PnkBstrK kernel driver is installed into the "drivers\" folder (which is inside the Windows system folder) as PnkBstrK.sys. The PnkBstrA and PnkBstrB components manage keys in the system Registry under HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE \ SOFTWARE \ Even Balance. Any security software that flags our new components as malware, trojan-like or suspicious simply has not been updated recently to properly reflect these components as authentic extensions of the PunkBuster Anti-Cheat system.

Can I configure these components to run as other users rather than as a system service?

These components will not operate properly unless they have Administrator rights. Any manual reconfiguration after they are installed may prevent being able to play on PunkBuster servers.

Can I safely stop / disable / remove these new components when not playing games?

Yes. However, please keep in mind that the PnkBstrA service is designed to run all the time and auto start when the computer is booted. If you choose to alter this behavior manually (which is an advanced topic beyond the scope of this FAQ), keep in mind that in order to play on PunkBuster enabled servers going forward, PunkBuster will need unblocked communication with a running and working PnkBstrA service when the game is started. Otherwise, PunkBuster servers will kick from gameplay.

How will I know if these new components are operating properly?

The new service components are designed to log to the system LogFiles folder. On most systems, this is at c:\windows\system32\LogFiles. The new components create and use a LogFiles subfolder called PunkBuster for logging messages. Under normal working conditions, the only messages you will see in the logs are initialization success messages. The new components automatically clear their respective logs after they reach about 100KB in size.

Even Balance, PunkBuster and the PunkBuster logo are trademarks of Even Balance, Inc. in the U.S. and/or other countries. All other trademarks are the property of their respective owners.

This documentation reflects the status as of October-2008. Always check the original version @