Until very recently, gaming was, for most people, a form of teenage entertainment. However, the rise of internet gaming platforms and MMORPGs has changed all that. I swear that I heard the Candy Crush Saga level-clearing tunes from the smartphone of a senior citizen sitting next to me on the subway this morning. It's official: People from all ages now engage in online gaming on their smartphone, tablet or PC. Games such as World of Tanks, EVE Online and Candy Crash Saga have made gaming a pastime for everyone. However, the rise of modern gaming has heightened the appeal of such platforms to cybercriminals looking for easy targets for hacking.
What makes gamers so easy a target is that, unlike other online activities, we tend to throw caution to the winds when engaged in playing our favorite games. According to the findings of professor of media psychology Frank Schwab, it is a scientific fact that computer gaming speaks to the rational cognitive and emotional systems thus influencing real life behavior and rational thought.
If you are like me, you can relate to that Yahtzee feeling of winning six games straight and beating your chest gorilla-like. Or is it just me who does that? When you are in the game, you are just in the zone; it is just as if the real world does not exist. More times than I'd like to admit, I've thrown caution to the wind and turned off anti-virus software for a better experience or gone trawling for hacks and cheats on suspicious websites.
When I am online, there is a very real risk of being infected with malicious software while interacting with fellow gamers. Malicious programs, such as viruses and worms, may come in the form of innocent-looking software, instant messaging programs, or corrupt programs in game files you download. Cybercriminals are increasingly using phishing and social engineering to entice gamers to open email attachments or visit suspicious websites so that they can install nasty software such as keyloggers on their computers.
While the love of the game makes me believe that the server is sacred and cannot contain any malicious software, the truth is it is not. As gamers, compromised or unsecure game servers is a risk that we face every time we log on to gaming servers. If you play any game with an internet connection, you expose yourself to the risk that the server is not secure. Research conducted by Independent Security Evaluators found that hackers could and did exploit vulnerabilities in two popular games—Anarchy Online and Age of Conan—to take control of the targeted computers. After gaining access, they can install spyware, adware and Trojan horses that they use to mine private information from your computer.
As much as we love our games, we have to acknowledge that game code is not as secure as other commercial software. Communication protocols between devices are particularly vulnerable as security protocols are not as strict, hence increasing your vulnerability to hacking.
The most vulnerable aspect of online gaming is the interactive nature of modern gaming. With elements such as instant messages, chats or talks, it is very easy for hackers to social engineer your experience in an attempt to steal your credit card information, your identity or other personal information.
In addition, the interactive nature that keeps us online for a long time can cloud our thinking processes. I don't know if you remember that case of the 51-year-old guy from Hawaii that sued NCsoft for unfair and deceptive practices since they did not warn him that the game he was playing (Lineage II) was addictive. Having spent over 20,000 hours on the game over four years, I truly relate with the guy. That is just how gaming, particularly multi-player role-playing games, can get into your head, potentially making you careless with sensitive information.
If you haven't used unorthodox means to get ahead in a game at one time or another, I'll just have to say I don't believe you. By taking advantage of your need to clear that hard level, cybercriminals posing as gamers direct you to a website offering free downloads or patches, and then they harvest your personal information by asking you to log in. They then use such information for identity theft purposes, such as accessing your financial accounts or maxing out your credit card.
In recent times, I have also seen indications that cybercriminals have come to realize that paid game accounts, well-developed game characters and in-game resources may be more valuable than personal and financial information. In-game fraud, phishing and special password stealing software, such as Steam Stealer, are just some of the ways that you may be defrauded. An important thing to note is that the higher the level of characters or in-game resources you have, the higher your appeal as a hacking target.
While the internet is a risky place—especially for ardent gamers—there are some security measures that, if implemented, will keep you and your data from cybercriminals while gaming:
- Beware of phishing campaigns and always double check all websites for authenticity.
- Do not open any emails or download any attachments sent to you by other gamers if you do not know them personally.
- It can be hectic setting up a strong and unique password for all your account. However, with so many tech-savvy cybercriminals on gaming platforms, having a weak password is an invitation to be hacked. Follow security recommendations by having a password that is at least eight characters long and has a mixture of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers and alphanumeric characters.
- Never turn off your anti-virus software. That exquisite gaming experience you are seeking may just land you into trouble. Some anti-virus software, such as Kaspersky, has the option to turn on a gaming profile that will ensure you have the experience you desire while keeping you safe.
- It is not a good idea to create an online profile that contains sensitive information such as phone numbers, house number, email addresses and names. These are easy to guess, making it easy for hackers to crack your account. Keep all information, including usernames and passwords, to yourself.
- If you have to download hacks and cheats for games, ensure you download from sites that other gamers can vouch for. Still I would advise against any form of cheats as these websites will likely have vulnerable code and may have malware injected into them at any time, even if other gamers vouch for them.
- I have found a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to be the best anonymizing software for gamers. With a VPN, you secure your browser and connection so that nobody, not even your ISP, can determine your IP address or intercept your connection. Moreover, a VPN encrypts and routes your connection through secure offsite servers so that, even if a hacker were to intercept it, the encryption would make the data useless.
- When I am registering for games, I always go for the most neutral name I can find. A good name will not allow fellow gamers to determine your location, gender or age. For instance, Astr0id175 is a good name while LAgalie1999 is bad.
- Lastly, since many multiplayer games automatically update software before connection, having updated security software such as anti-virus and firewalls is always a good idea.
What security measures are you taking to keep your online gaming experience safe? Kindly share below and let us collaborate to keep each other safe from cybercriminals. Cassie's day job is as a cybersecurity professional at Secure Thoughts, which gives her a lot of time to play games on the computer.
Cybercriminals include the people who have taken over NSider2's Google search results, and the owner of NSider2 who is aiding and abetting this criminal behaviour by going out of his way to allow it to persist.
If you don't remember the story about the Hawaiian guy, recall the Russian that sued because Fallout 4 was addictive and it destroyed his life.
Both leading presidential candidates in the United States want to weaken encryption, which would make your gaming experiences more vulnerable to hackers.
KoopaTV had to open Cassie's e-mail and download her attachment in order for this article to exist, because she submitted it as a guest post to our submissions e-mail address. You can give KoopaTV's staff members viruses through this, too, starting by reading about it here!
Cassie later writes about great courses to take to get into game development.
Just to prove her point, hackers are targeting the most popular name in the world to get financial access.