Not so long ago, most people regarded gaming as something for kids and maybe teens, nothing adults really needed to worry about. We’re not sure precisely when that changed, but with gaming now reputable and ubiquitous, we all have a new front to guard against cybercriminals.
The chances are good that you play an online game — or more than one — at least occasionally. Whether you use a gaming console, a PC, or your phone, whether you play 10 minutes while commuting or every spare evening and weekend hour is not important. If you play, then you need to know and avert the risks associated with your gaming online.
Specific game exploits and hacks of game developers crop up from time to time, but cheating and other common issues affecting online gaming persist. Here are the five major risks threatening everyone involved in online gaming, and what you can do to stay safe:
The same tactics scammers use to trick people out of their credit card numbers, bank passwords, and other account logins are also popular with gaming thieves. In this case, instead of mocking up a replica of Chase Bank or the like, criminals may build something that looks like a popular online game website and urge gamers to change their password or validate their account, typically threatening to block the gamer’s account unless they comply. The goal is to take over the account and resell it on the black market.
Solution: Phishing is phishing. Never click a link in an e-mail or text message. Open your Web browser, type in the game website yourself, log in to your account, and perform any checks or confirmations there. Use online protection that prevents your browser from opening fake sites.
2. Trolls and bullying
Almost every online game includes some form of voice or text-based chatting nowadays. Unfortunately, the feature is also widely abused. In the heat of the online battle, you may hear some cursing, or an insult. That may just be human nature in a highly competitive atmosphere, but inevitably, some players will cross the line into bullying other players. And in some games, especially those dedicated to online characters’ virtual lives, such chats may become uncomfortably personal.
Solution: Immediately block any offender; don’t play or chat with them, and report their user name to the game abuse team. Never reveal your real identity or personal details to your gaming partners. If your kids are playing, teach them to discuss such incidents with you promptly and make sure they are well aware that the “stranger-danger” principle is highly applicable in online games as well as in the real world.
3. Cheats and frauds
Depending on the rules and the type of game, multiple ways to cheat may exist — some considered legitimate, some not. The worst use modified gaming clients, or even bots, to play in better condition (with greater speed or precision, for example) than ordinary players. Also, some players take advantage of errors they discover in the game server’s code to gain an advantage in-game.
Other ways to cheat involve fixing games, using virtual gangs to rob novice players, and virtual fraud. When it comes to in-game economies, centuries-old fraud schemes sometimes arise. You may encounter a person offering you some inventory or an in-game advantage for a discounted price, for example, but typically such offers turn out to be scams.
Trading in-game goods outside of the official game marketplace dramatically increases your chances of being deceived.
Solution: Don’t accept suspicious offers from strangers. If an offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If you notice someone progressing too fast in the game, report it to the support team. Most online games have strict regulations and promptly ban cheaters.
4. Character and inventory theft
Criminals are likely to target in-game resources, well-developed game characters, paid game accounts, or associated credit-card data. The latter is the hardest to target, but others may be stolen from you in multiple ways: phishing, password-stealing malware, in-game fraud and so on. Ultimately, the better your character or account, the greater the chance that criminals will target you specifically. This is especially relevant for well-developed games with large, loyal (and paying) audiences worldwide.
Solution: As you progress in a game, be more and more cautious with your account. Set up two-factor authentication for the account, use complex and unique passwords for your in-game account and your primary e-mail address, use a strong security solution for your device, and watch out for phishing and other attempts to steal your credentials.
The better your in-game character, the more likely criminals are to target you personally.
5. Computer or smartphone compromise
In addition to other tricks that work for a general audience, some hackers target gamers with fake game updates or utilities claiming to customize your game or help speed your game progress. Malicious apps spread through phishing, in-game communications, as attachments on gamers’ forums or chat rooms, and by other, similar means.
In some exceptional cases, malware is even spread through legitimate game update mechanisms. Some of that malware is game-oriented, stealing gamers’ credentials or in-game goods, but some steals bank accounts; adds your PC, Mac, or smartphone to a botnet; or mines Bitcoins.
Solution: The aforementioned malware is why gamers always need fully updated devices with the most recent patches from OS vendors and the strongest Internet security suite available. Some solutions, such as Kaspersky Internet Security, protect you from malware and phishing and also include a special gaming mode, which delays or disables certain features so your security won’t cause any computer slowdowns while you’re kicking butt online.