More jurisdictions around the world are increasingly approving online gaming. In the US alone, 70% of the families have at least one member of their family who plays video games.
Furthermore, 34% of those who prefer to play from a single device prefer to use their mobile devices.
Most gamers say they spend about 16% of their leisure time gaming. That translates to about 12 hours a week. Their gaming hours are comparable to other activities, such as listening to music at 15%, and internet browsing at 18%.
However, that does not mean the gaming industry is not without dangers.
A case in point is the recent cyberattack on CD Projekt Red, which happened on February 9, 2021. They announced someone had breached their network, and they had received a ransom note.
The attacker had given them 48 hours to get in touch. However, CD Projekt Red said that they were not going to cooperate.
Online Gaming Industry Growth
While many players are drawn to the convenience of online gaming, others see it as an opportunity to prey on gamers. That is not surprising, considering it is a multi-billion dollar industry.
For instance in 2021, Statista projects that it will bring in over $23.5 billion, in the US alone. Globally, they project the gaming market will be worth $2.2 trillion.
And the methods criminals use to target players online, vary as much as the crimes they commit. Some initiate social interaction to trick players into revealing personal and financial information.
Others exploit security vulnerabilities in the players’ computers to gain access. Still, some choose to prey on unsuspecting child gamers, and others choose to install malware in the players’ gaming devices.
Moreover, 52% of gamers play from a laptop and desktop. That makes it easy for hackers to target a large number of gamers, once they find vulnerability in either of the devices.
MMORPGs, also known as MMOs
Often, that happens when users play games such as online casino-like games, lotteries, online sporting events, or Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs), also known as MMOs. Apart from losing funds invested in the games, some games are also designed to be addictive.
However, players need not lose their funds or their health, if they follow a few set of rules. The United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) has come up with some guidelines, which can help players enjoy online games safely.
Most of them are because of their analysis of past cybercrimes.
In MMORPGs games, it is common for players to spend money to acquire virtual assets. This is common in jurisdictions where players aren’t allowed to win real world cash. So, instead of winning cash prizes, they get rewarded with virtual assets.
These virtual assets are valued by gamers in MMORPGs communities, and can be bought with real money. Criminals often target these assets, and then sell them on markets such as eBay, in exchange of real money.
Players only realize they have lost their virtual assets when it is too late.
Gaming with Admin Accounts
These crimes are referred to as virtual crimes. The best way to escape them is to secure your gaming device. For instance, using a gaming device in administrative mode can help attackers gain total control of your desktop.
On the hand, using a general user account limits what they can do.
For instance, two MMOs Anarchy Online and Age of Conan have known vulnerabilities. Hackers can use those vulnerabilities to access the player’s gaming computer files and programs. Once they do, they can crash your game when you are gaming online.
Furthermore, Anarchy Online makes it possible for hackers to control the hacked computer, fully.
However, if they get access via a general user account, they cannot make any changes on important system files. They also cannot access or modify network settings. That gives you time to notice the attack, and to scan your device with security software to disable it.
When that happens, the malicious users can then use that computer to control or attack other computers in the network. They may also install spyware, adware, or even Trojan horses.
Hackers use those malware for identity theft, stealing personal information, and stealing credit card information.
Other times, the hackers use software “bots”, to rob players of their virtual rewards. And in other instances they threaten to harm weaker players, if they don’t pay “protection” money. The threats revolve around crashing the player’s game or defeating their game characters unfairly.
Insecure Gaming Code
One advantage commercial software has over gaming software is industry scrutiny. With industry scrutiny, comes regular security patches and upgrades. Unfortunately, gaming software doesn’t get the same scrutiny.
Therefore, they are often having insecure protocols, and which leads to “buggy” experience for users, even hacking.
In such cases, a player’s best option is to avoid online gaming from administrative accounts. They can also use updated antimalware software, to limit the gaming software’s “buggy” behavior. One of the notable cases of such gaming software hack was in South Korea.
Over 1,000 players had their identities stolen, after a fantasy game named “Lineage” was hacked. Hackers created duplicate accounts under their names, and then tried to make money off them.
Security experts speculated that the hackers intended to use the accounts to steal and sell virtual weapons used in the game.
Social Risks of Online Gaming
One of the great social risks online games pose is against children. Malicious individuals often pose like children, in order to set up meetings with children. Once their children join the meetings, they often get tricked into revealing personal information.
Other times, the children are bullied, which may harm them psychologically. This happens when the hackers threaten to humiliate them online. They may also threaten to harm the child’s family, using the information the child gave them.
How to Enjoy Online Games Safely
You can take three steps to game online safely. The first one is to use secure devices and software. That also means using a user account, instead of an administrative account, which will protect you from 80% of the vulnerability attacks.
Hackers, mostly target user accounts that can provide them privileged access to gaming devices. When you use an unprivileged user account, you deny them that chance.
The second step is to keep all your software updated at all times. Most security software and gaming software provide real time updates. However, you may miss them if you skip update prompts, when starting your gaming device.
The third step is to access a gaming platform and software, which is licensed within your jurisdiction. That can help you get compensation, if the gaming platform’s negligence causes gamers to lose funds.
You may not get any compensation, if you access illegal gaming platforms.
Furthermore, illegal gaming sites tend to offer files with vulnerabilities, for you to download. The files are often free, which is an incentive for you to download them.
Other times, the download may just contain adware. Those display ads, which slow down your device, while extracting personal information.
Gaming Online Can Be Safe If Done Right
Overall, as with anything where money is involved, criminals are often not far off. However, that doesn’t mean that we should shy away from online gaming.
The rule of thumb is to avoid giving out personal and banking information to random gaming platforms, and to securely access any online site.
And if you fall victim to a cyberattack, not negotiating with the criminals is the best option. You will always do more damage if you give in to their demands, than if you don’t.
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