Online gaming — whether it be World of Warcraft, Fortnite or a simple game of chess — has boomed in popularity over the past decade and the ever-growing industry is now worth billions of dollars. People of all ages, from all over the world, invest their time and money in the latest consoles and games and enjoy the opportunity to play online with family and friends.
With more of us than ever spending time online, it’s important to be aware of the types of risks posed by online gaming platforms. While there are tools you can use to protect yourself, including gaming antivirus software, nothing beats a keen eye and insider knowledge of the strategies that cybercriminals are prone to using.
Phishing scams — in which a criminal impersonates a trusted organisation, such as your bank, in an attempt to extort money and personal information — are a common strategy used by cybercriminals, particularly in the world of online gaming.
Online criminals have been known to send emails that appear to be from a gaming company or server, advising you that you need to follow a link and update your login information in order to retain access to your account. Clicking on this link will take you to a fraudulent page and the login credentials that you enter will go straight into the hands of these hackers, who can then steal your personal and financial details.
Gaming is a great way to meet new people — just be aware that not everyone that you come into contact with wants to be your friend. While some people simply get caught up in the world of online battles, others set out to intentionally and maliciously upset their teammates and opponents. It is particularly important that parents are aware of the social platform that gaming provides, and ensure their children are playing in a safe and respectful manner.
In signing up to an online gaming platform, you generally need to provide your full name, email address and credit card information. Depending on the game, you might also be asked for your date of birth and location.
This might seem like innocuous information — the type that you provide to any number of companies on a daily basis. However, gaming websites are increasingly being targeted by cybercriminals who are looking to steal personal details to be sold on the dark web for personal profit.
There’s another type of online theft you should be on the lookout for — virtual.
The more time you invest in playing a game, the more likely you are to rack up valuable weapons, armour and character traits, which can be used to further elevate your gaming experience. These commodities are valuable targets for cybercriminals, who (having obtained your login information through illegal means), can either use them themselves or sell them onto other players for profit.
Online gamers love to watch the best-of-the-best battle it out via online streaming platforms such as Twitch. Beyond being entertaining, doing so provides a valuable opportunity to pick up new tricks and improve their gameplay knowledge.
Unfortunately, cybercriminals are also aware of this and are increasingly targeting the webcams of online gamers. Some do this purely for fun and shock value, whilst others have more corrupt intentions; webcam hacking can lead to targeted real world robberies (think — if the cybercriminal can see you sitting at your desk, they know your home is an empty target) and blackmail.
Malware is a type of software that is designed to damage your device. Cybercriminals choose to spread malware for a variety of reasons — some are looking to track your keystrokes, whilst others are hoping you will pay a ransom to have the program removed.
Malware that targets the online gaming community is usually hidden through free downloads, malicious websites (that appear to be run by legitimate gaming companies) and emails containing links that promise free upgrades, weapons and armour.
A relatively new form of attack, cybercriminals are now spreading fake apps throughout the internet, Google Play and App stores. These apps usually mimic legitimate and popular games, with cybercriminals hoping that unsuspecting users will not look too closely before downloading.
Once on your device, these applications can install malware and steal your personal information.
A distributed denial of service attack — or DDoS — is a powerful tool used by online criminals to render websites inoperable. They do this by flooding a server with mass traffic, usually through botnets (robotically controlled computers). This diverts the attention of security and IT professionals, allowing the criminal to upload malware and steal data.
The competitive nature of online gaming means that DDoS attacks are often used by players themselves, in order to get an upper hand on their opponent. Last year, video game company Ubisoft sued a company that provided ‘DDoS-for-Hire’ services.
Doxxing is a type of cyber attack that involves discovering and publishing the real identity of an internet user. Many people who play games online do so under a pseudonym or username — in fact, this is recommended by security professionals as a method of protecting your online privacy.
The act of revealing personal details is malicious in nature and can result in real-world harm.
To prevent this from occurring, all online gamers should make use of a VPN. What is a VPN? A security tool that encrypts your data and hides your location, preventing potential doxxers from intercepting your connection and discovering your true identity.
A different type of cyberthreat entirely, addiction to online gaming is becoming more widespread, particularly as many of us turned to games as a way to pass time during Covid-19 lockdowns.
An individual who finds their online gaming habits interfering with their daily life — whether it be work, school or spending time with friends and family — should look at how they might achieve a better balance between their real and online worlds.
Author Bio: Bridget
Bridget is a writer and editor, currently living in Melbourne. She is a copywriter for Newpath Web and loves working with words of all shapes and sizes. When not playing around with punctuation and grammar, she enjoys travelling and curating her Spotify playlists.