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Gaming online should keep you on your toes — but because the game is thrilling and the competition fierce, not because your PC has gotten a virus unexpectedly and now your data, information, or device is at risk. You may not realize it, but gaming can make your PC extremely vulnerable to cybersecurity threats. As the COVID-19 crisis continues and online gaming becomes more and more popular, experts believe that threats will continue to increase.

Luckily, there is a slew of technology for online gamers that can help keep you safe when you game online — especially PC antivirus protection programs. While antivirus software can't keep you safe from every cyberattack while gaming, an understanding of the cybersecurity threats gamers face — as well as how antivirus software can help protect you—will help keep your devices and information secure while you're online. If you're wondering about whether you should keep anti-virus on while gaming or whether antivirus protection could affect your experience negatively (or not), here's what you need to know.

The cybersecurity threats that gamers face

Gaming is rarely mentioned when people discuss cybersecurity issues. However, threats to gamers are real — and they're getting worse. This is especially true now that we're deep into the COVID-19 pandemic, and more people than ever are using online gaming as a way to find entertainment and escape. People are also using gaming—especially multi-player games that connect players in real-time—as a means of connecting with other people to ease the loneliness and isolation that people are experiencing during lockdowns and quarantine. Because of the skyrocketing popularity of gaming, gaming platforms are seeing record numbers of users. In March 2020, Steam reached an all-time record for both active users and concurrent users actively playing games. This means that there are more possible targets than ever accessing games—and more potential people who could be the victims of cyberattacks.

Here are some of the specific cybersecurity threats gamers face when gaming online:

  • Phishing: Phishing doesn't just happen via email. It can also happen while you're gaming, and it can be trickier to spot. Things like fake login pages can capture players' emails and passwords. If you want to avoid phishing scams while gaming, make sure you check the source of any message you get asking for login info and make sure that it is legitimate. Sometimes, you may receive a message from a scammer posing as a support person in an in-game chat feature, so be extra careful to pay attention to any messaging within games, especially if they are asking for any confidential or personal information.
  • Malware: Gamers can encounter malware while gaming. Malware links and vectors can be surreptitiously incorporated into legitimate pages (or ones that offer special benefits, like cheats).
  • Identity theft: When you game online, you develop your own persona. Those that are known well enough may be impersonated by hackers — who can use the identity for malicious things like soliciting money, favors, etc. If you start getting messages from games or sites you've never visited, you may want to do some research and make sure your identity has not been stolen. Another important step to avoid identity theft is to have credit monitoring turned on, which will alert you immediately if someone has tried to impersonate you in any financial realm (taking out a credit card, opening an account, applying for a loan, etc.)
  • Credential stuffing: Credential stuffing is one of the most frequent types of cyberattacks on gamers. Credential stuffing happens when hackers obtain login info for an individual via a breached site; they can access other sites by using that login info.
  • Viruses: You can accidentally download a virus onto your computer or device any time you download a new game. Or, you may be playing a game, then access a virus when you're offered new equipment, weapons, etc. to buy or download.
  • SQL Injection attacks: Some hackers are launching attacks that are created to get ahold of login information from games' servers. These attacks are not directed at individual gamers but instead at the games themselves. Nonetheless, individual gamers can suffer due to these attacks, and your personal information may be compromised, then used for hackers' financial gain. Make sure your login to each game is unique so that if your information is stolen, it can only be used in that one place and not harnessed to do more damage to your finances, devices, or reputation.
  • Trojanized games: Sometimes, bad actors develop programs that look identical to popular games or apps you might want to download online. They put these programs in app stores—except these are trojanized versions of those games, so that when you download them, they now have access to all of the information on your device. Before you download a game—even if it seems like the right one—verify that it's a legitimate version of the game and not a trojanized one. Check to see how many ratings and reviews it has and how long it has been in an apps store. A popular game will have lots of reviews and ratings and will have been around a long time. A trojanized version may be brand new and lacking any ratings or reviews.
  • Ransomware attacks: For those who prize or make money off their gaming—or those who develop games—you might be at risk of ransomware attacks. Ransomware operators may take control of your device and keep you from accessing your game or information about it without paying out a huge sum of money.
  • In-game currency theft: Some bad operators are hacking into people's gaming accounts and stealing currency within the games. While this is more of an issue for those who are serious about their gaming, it can result in many wasted dollars and a potential boon on the part of the hacker. Make sure you use a strong password for your games and login information that you don't use for any other account.
  • Interfering to gain a competitive edge: Some bad actors simply interfere with gamers' connections or devices to slow down their games. This helps give them a competitive edge over other players, ensuring that they win games—and making games frustrating for those trying to play but find themselves continuously interrupted.

The dangers of viruses from gaming

Threats can come from anywhere when you are playing an online game. As mentioned above, viruses aren't only accidentally downloaded when you download a game. They can also come in the form of weapons or equipment to purchase. Sometimes, they are offered by other players who have malicious intentions. Or, they can be offered by hackers who are simply in the game posing as gamers. Alternatively, viruses can be handed over unintentionally, without malicious intent. If another player offers you something to download that they don't know is infected with a virus, your computer now has the virus too.

Battling a virus on your computer isn't as simple as battling an opponent in a game. Viruses often cause your computer to run incredibly slowly. Alternatively, they might completely destroy your ability to use your computer — requiring expensive, expert repairs. And viruses can compromise your sensitive or financial information, which can lead to even bigger problems that extend beyond your PC — like identity theft, stolen money, and more.

Risks with working from home

Many people are now working from home because of the pandemic. This now increases the risks that online gamers face—and not only when it comes to their games. Online games are simply a window into your home's or family's network. If a bad actor can access your network via one device (the one you are gaming on), you aren't only at risk of losing the game or having currency stolen. All of your devices are now actually at risk, too. Those with bad intent can steal financial or personal information from other smart devices or PCs that are connected to the same network as the computer that you are gaming on. And, even worse, if you’re work computer is connected to your home Internet, that computer is now at risk too.

Those who work from home want to be especially careful because business information on work computers can be compromised if networks are accessed via games. The harm can spread even farther—from the information on only your device—to the entire infrastructure of your company if you are accessing a remote work network from home. If malicious actors can access the work network from access your network while you game, you put your entire company at risk—which may be a much larger risk to take than simply compromising your own game or devices. For this reason, security is extra important in this new digital, work-from-home, pandemic era.

The benefits of using antivirus while gaming

It's clear that the risk of downloading a virus while gaming is real. However, many gamers are hesitant to use anti-virus software while they are playing a game. After all, they don't want to ruin their immersive experience — especially if that experience is a multiplayer one in real-time. However, if you game regularly on your PC, you should, without question, keep antivirus protection on your PC. Here are the most important reasons to keep antivirus on while you play:

Antivirus programs can enhance your computer functioning

Antivirus programs are made nowadays to function invisibly. Their makers don't even want you to know that they're there, in the background, working. In fact, some antivirus programs that run enhance the functioning of your computer, because they block bad software and clean your hard drive regularly. So, if you have antivirus on, you may even experience increased functioning while you play, ensuring a seamless and smooth gaming experience.

Antivirus programs include PC clean-up that can help your computer when you're done gaming

One reason that you want to keep antivirus on while you're gaming is that many antivirus programs have PC Cleanup on them. This means that when you're done gaming, they will run on your computer and clean up any unnecessary and excessive files or downloads. This means that when you're not online or gaming, your antivirus can do the work to keep your computer clean, safe, and functioning well. And if you leave it on while gaming, your antivirus can begin the process of cleaning up your PC as soon as you're done playing a game.

Many antivirus software options have a gaming mode

Lots of the best antivirus software can run without you noticing one bit, no matter what platform you're playing on. Some antivirus programs recognize trusted gaming platforms, like Steam, and purposely function so that they don't interfere at all with the platform's activity.

Some antivirus companies even have gamer editions

Gamer editions of antivirus software are built specifically to protect you while you game. This means you'll avoid the biggest security threats while you're playing, and you won't experience any interruption in your experience.

You might forget to turn antivirus back on when you're done

You don't mean to, but you finish gaming and turn off your PC. You go to work the next morning, and now you're browsing the internet completely unprotected and vulnerable. When you keep antivirus on while gaming, you eliminate the risk that antivirus is off whenever you might need it.

Keep antivirus programs on while gaming increases the chances that a virus is caught quickly

Sometimes, as careful as you are and as hard as you try to avoid malicious actors on the Internet, you can find yourself having encountered a virus or with malware on your device. If you have antivirus on while you game, you can ensure that those bad actors are caught as quickly as possible. The quicker that a virus or any security threat is detected on your PC, the quicker it can be dealt with. The longer a virus is on your PC, the more damage it can do—or the more information a bad actor can access. So, keep your antivirus on while gaming, and you can be sure that in case you encounter anything dangerous on the web, you've minimized the ultimate amount of damage that it can do.

Recommended Products

Kaspersky is dedicated to keeping you safe on the web — whether you're working, shopping on the internet, or gaming. In order to protect your internet security, the company offers a wide selection of products that can you and your information safe. One of the best tools for antivirus protection while you game on your PC is Kaspersky Anti-Virus, which guards you against ransomware, crypto lockers, hackers, and more.

Kaspersky has Gaming Mode in its products, starting with version 19 of home applications and version 6 of Small Office Security. Gaming Mode is enabled by default. When enabled, whichever Kaspersky product you're running won't do scans or updates, and it won't show notifications if the game (or another application) is opened full screen.

Game safely, with peace of mind, when you use antivirus protection from Kaspersky. Discover more today about how Kaspersky can help you game as safely and securely as possible.

Further Reading:

Online Gaming Scams during Pandemic. How to Stay Safe

How to Protect Your Child from the Top 7 Dangers of Online Gaming

Computer viruses can bring a game to an abrupt halt

Should you disable antivirus while gaming?

Many gamers think by disabling antivirus while gaming, they’re boosting performance. Learn why that’s not the case, and it’s creating more risk than reward.
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