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Cybersecurity for gamers: How to play it safe

Cyber attacks that target gamers are on the rise, with many high-profile attacks via gaming platforms taking place in the last few years.

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Some play for recreation, others for relaxation. Whatever type of player you are, you’re potentially vulnerable to a variety of security risks if you don’t play safe.

Regardless of the platform you’re using, keeping yourself safe by adopting some basic information security best practices is important. Being the best — with the most in-game currency, gear, and the strongest stats is a goal of many gamers, and the ‘pay-to-win’ model is growing in popularity amongst developers. As consumers get used to more of these microtransactions, unsuspecting players become easy targets.

Cyber attacks that target gamers are on the rise, with many high-profile attacks via gaming platforms taking place in the last few years. You’re probably familiar with websites offering tips, tricks, downloads, and walkthroughs for various games, as well as forums where players can discuss the current meta. Security vendor Avast discovered six of these websites that were spreading malware to visitors by targeting gamers who had disabled their antivirus or antispyware software to play games. The six websites they uncovered were:

  • anywhere-games.com
  • galacticflashgames.com
  • gamefactoryinteractive.com
  • games-digest.com
  • mariogamesplay.com
  • towerofdefense.com

Similarly, Sony’s PlayStation Network was hacked, resulting in the personal information of 77 million users being stolen. Names, addresses, birth dates, email addresses, purchase history, and login details were stolen, and the network was offline for a month. Twelve million of the affected accounts had unencrypted credit card information stored within. With access to those 77 million emails, Sony predicted that phishing attacks would be on the rise, with hackers sending out official-looking emails to users in an attempt to gain access to more information.

Potential Risks and Threats

There are many different risks present in online gaming. Knowing these threats is the first step to protecting yourself.

Online scams: Unexpected offerings, bonuses, or the prospect of rare loot could be a scam. If someone is offering you some sort of bonus that seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Malicious hacks: Downloading any form of modification – especially those designed to offer an unfair advantage – presents a risk. Often, these downloads are the ideal place to hide malicious software. When you download and use these files, you may be exposing yourself to malware.

Phishing attacks: Pop-up ads or private messages could try to lure you to a hacker-controlled website to gain access to your login details. Other players may befriend you to gain your trust and account information. Someone could pretend to be an admin and convince you to share information about your account. There are many different types of phishing attacks, whether they’re technical or socially-engineered, in which hackers attempt to access your information.

Software vulnerabilities: If you don’t keep your machine updated, you are potentially leaving yourself open to a cyber attack. Software updates are meant to keep you secure with patches to existing vulnerabilities and the most up-to-date information about potential threats. Ignoring these can be disastrous.

Malware: Spyware, adware, and ransomware change very quickly, making it difficult to detect and prevent. There are many different types of malware; your bank account could be drained, your browsing history monitored, your login information stolen, or everything encrypted and held for ransom. Never open or download an attachment if you’re unsure of its legitimacy.

Cyberbullying and abuse: Cyberbullies are usually anonymous and can harass you relentlessly with mean-spirited messages or threats. If you’ve given out any personal information, cyberbullies can use that against you in multiple ways.

How to Stay Safe: Cybersecurity Tips

  • Do not open any attachments or links that seem like they might be about the games you play. Even if you’ve received a promotional email or encountered these attachments or links in a forum, do not click them. They could be a phishing attack, trying to lure you to a site controlled by hackers.
  • Keep your operating system and software up-to-date to protect yourself from the latest threats.
  • Use antivirus software to protect you from infected files or malicious websites.
  • Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to encrypt your network connection. Keep in mind that not all of these services are safe; try reading reviews online to find a provider you can trust.
  • Never give out your email or social media contact information to other players.
  • Do not reply to threatening or disturbing messages. Leave the conversation, block the user, and report them.
  • Never disable your security software before playing a game. Many users do this to free up some of their machine’s resources to help the game run faster, but it leaves them exposed and vulnerable to attacks.
  • Always use strong passwords, with a mix of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and punctuation. Whenever possible, use two-factor authentication to keep your account secure; this way, even if someone does know your password, they won’t have access to the second step of security on your account.
  • Do not ever share your account information. Even if someone is claiming to be an admin for the game, you should always verify their identity before disclosing any information about your account.
  • Never give out your personal information, such as your name, address, birthday, or contact information, to other players.
  • Enhance your browser security settings. Before downloading any games or add-ons, you should always verify the source website and make sure that it is what you think it is.
  • If you buy in-game currency, only purchase it from trusted and authenticated websites.

Playing online games can be a fun way to wind down and relax or pass the time. Whether you play via desktop or console, it’s important to stay safe and protect yourself from malware, phishing attacks, cyberbullying, software vulnerabilities, and online scams. Keep all of your software up-to-date, protect your passwords and account information, and never click on suspicious links. Play it safe.

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Just another guy who likes to write about tech and gadgets.

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