It is estimated that about 800 million people today play online games. From Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs) to online First Person Shooters, gaming together with others over the internet can be very appealing for many reasons. On the other hand, such a large number of people now having expanded their social circles into the exciting world of online gaming brings with it new privacy and security concerns as well as exposure to dangerous online threats that can range from virus infections to identity theft. How safe is online gaming? How can you protect yourself if you enjoy online games?
WHAT ARE THE DANGERS OF ONLINE GAMING?
The unsuspecting online gamer fighting an opponent in their favourite game on the internet may not be aware of that the real danger is often hidden from them. The gamer may be worrying about defeat in the virtual game world but this is should be a minor concern compared to the real threat that may come with the download of the game or when trading virtual items for the game on shady internet websites.
Online computer games, especially free ones are notorious for often coming bundled with some nasty surprises. Malicious spyware, adware and viruses can cause all sorts of damage that in some cases may perhaps only slow down your PC but in others can be much worse. Cyber criminals are using malicious software where they try to steal private information including your bank account information and credit card numbers. When this happens, what started as a joyful online gaming experience can quickly become a real nightmare.
WHAT TYPES OF THREATS DO ONLINE GAMERS FACE?
Everything that you download from the internet, whether it is online games or anything else can be infected with malicious software. Online gamers are in particular vulnerable to exposing their computers to viruses and other types of malware. One reason for this is that players are often encouraged to get virtual weapons and other equipment for their game where each of these can potentially be dangerous. A common scheme would be that hackers try to get to the player’s account information and that they commonly use these types of virtual items to disguise their malicious programs.
The download of the game itself also poses a significant risk, especially if these games might come from less trusted sites or when they are downloaded from file sharing websites.
Unless you use proper protection for your computer, you can never know whether the game or virtual game item that you just got is not infected with some type of malicious software. Let’s take a look at the common threats that online gamers can be facing.
VIRUSES AND TROJANS
Viruses and malicious software that disguise itself as something seemingly useful (so called Trojans) are among the most common threats for online gamers. A renowned security software maker, Kaspersky Labs, reported that more than 12 million gamers had fallen victim to viruses and other malicious software in 2014 alone.
Because you can never know whether a game is infected with some type of virus or malware, you should download games only from trusted sites and look for security certificates and other trust markers.
If you obtain a game or a virtual game item you should always first run a virus scan with a modern antivirus software to ensure that whatever you downloaded is clean and cannot cause any harm. Since online games may frequently download content while you play, it is strongly recommended that you schedule regular virus scans of your computer rather than relying on a one-time check.
Online gaming also means a whole new level of social interaction with others. Most games feature chat rooms or forums where players can meet and talk to each other. Cyber criminals are often using these chats when they want to spy on the personal information of gamers. For this reason you should always be careful to not give out your personal information. If you have children who enjoy online games you need to make sure that they are safe and protected to not fall victim to online scams and criminals that might be prying on them in chat or from within the game.
Online games are always a favourite target by cyber criminals who use what’s known as phishing scams where they try get to someone’s private or financial information. There are two reasons why phishing this information from online gamers is popular among criminals:
Many online games require paid accounts where gamers keep their banking information and other sensitive information. Getting to this information can be a goldmine for the criminal. Some criminals do this so they can re-sell the hacked account while others may go so far as to gain access to your bank or credit card to steal your money.
The other reason why cyber criminals like to target online games is that many gamers are often children who may not be aware of these dangers.
A common phishing scam could be coming in the form of an email or a chat message that looks as if it’s coming from the online gaming provider. Cyber criminals use these fake emails or messages to lure the player to a fake website with a login form where they capture the username and password, compromising the account.
HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF FROM ONLINE THREATS?
You can minimize your risk of virus infection if don’t download your game or virtual gaming items from sites you don’t trust. Be especially careful on file sharing websites and gaming forums.
When you interact with other players online, make sure you don’t reveal your private information.
You should never share your gaming account information with others, even if they offer you help with the game. A real customer service representative that may be assisting you in the game won't need your account information.
If you have a problem with the game or your gaming account, always contact customer support by using their official website. Most renowned gaming companies offer a toll free phone number where you can get support as well.
Never click on links in emails even if the emails seem to be legitimately coming from the gaming company. Know that some phishing emails can look strikingly legitimate. The gaming company will never ask you for your login and password.
Most importantly, make sure you are running a reliable and effective internet security software for your computer. This type of software can provide you with the best protection not only from viruses and other malicious software. Modern security software solutions have features built in such as parental controls, phishing scam protection or a personal firewall that can provide the extra layers of security that you need if you want to enjoy online games safely and securely.