Play it safe with these tips for online gaming privacy
Nobody can deny that online gaming is an addictive and delightful hobby, stealing curious hearts since day one. Imagine that you spend countless hours pampering your characters, buying gear, and grinding for rare in-game items. But, out of the blue, you cannot log into your account. Your loyal partner in the game claims to see your character online, slaying monsters, or completing storyline quests. What happened here? It is no coincidence or a temporary glitch: somebody stole your account.
Cautionary tales of data losses, unauthorized data disclosures, swatting, identity theft, and cyberbullying are by no means new. However, the gaming landscape continues to be one of the highly-compromised environments. Instead of grinding for new armor, learn the potential hazards and techniques for fighting them.
Why target gamers? Hackers follow the trail of cash
Cybercriminals have a fifth sense when it comes to finding the most low-risk, high-reward targets. While it might all seem accidental, professional hackers base their decision on statistical data, especially related to revenues. According to a Newzoo report, researchers predict an impressive 9.3% growth for the global games market in 2020. To put in numbers, the forecast indicates a possible $159.3 billion in revenue. For comparison, analysts predict a drastically smaller revenue stream for the video streaming segment in 2020: nearly $52 million.
A portion of the attacks target game developers, such as the massive DDoS raids against well-known industry names. In the latter scenarios, game creators are responsible for applying sufficient security measures for mitigation and prevention. For instance, one precaution might be the improvement of servers’ downtime if they suffer DDoS attacks. However, crooks do not exclude individual players from the danger zone. It seems that many streamers were victims of DDoS attacks. One might even occur through a friend request from an unknown source.
Constant IP location tracing is also one of the factors that compromise the privacy of online gamers. Threats, blackmail, stalking, or harassment can force popular streamers to end their careers. While anonymous threats might be childish pranks, you should never underestimate their severity.
Gamers spend a fortune on in-game items, including clothing, skins, hairstyles, emotes, etc. Over several years, these purchases might accumulate to impressive numbers. On one occasion, a player spent $1.3 million to polish a character on Justice Online. Therefore, a single stolen account could lead to impressive profits.
Main risks to gamers’ privacy
- Technical mishaps leading to data breaches. Not everything rests on the gamers’ shoulders. Game owners must preserve users’ information and secure it from hacks. However, developers often disregard the security-first approach due to strict deadlines. For gamers themselves, security is not a priority: downtime, graphics, and response time are much more critical. So, large-scale data breaches are, sadly, common. Recently, hackers compromised Call of Duty accounts, with thousands of credentials leaking to the public domain.
- Phishing extorts player’s private data and credentials. Sending fraudulent emails is a tale as old as time. However, techniques directed against gamers tend to follow more sophisticated and believable scenarios. For instance, account takeover might lead to hundreds of deceptive posts on gaming forums or DMs. Messages from compromised League of Legends accounts have already led to many false promises of free goods. Usually, such a fraudulent message includes a link or file that triggers a malware infection. Opened links might require users’ credentials to confirm the said acquisition of skins, weapons, or other in-game items. However, the information travels straight to criminals’ hands.
- In-game information abuse. Players chat either through in-game channels or separate gaming forums. It is natural to engage with people that have similar interests. Accidentally, without even realizing, you might reveal too much. In some cases, predators message gamers privately with hopes to get gamers’ data. One such attempt occurred to women playing Scrabble when they received intrusive messages from unknown sources. So, be sure to block such people or ignore their attempts to communicate entirely.
How to stay safe while gaming?
- Two-factor authentication. The attitudes towards account security have always been sloppy. From reused passwords to easy combinations, such issues persist. But this is not entirely the users’ fault. Some service owners fail to incorporate 2FA options. In the gaming industry, this situation slowly turns less gloomy. Epic Games even encourages players to activate 2FA in exchange for free stuff. Whenever 2FA is possible, we strongly encourage you to apply it.
- Create strong passwords. Your in-game persona is worth not only money: its theft is personal. So, assign complex and lengthy passwords to your accounts. Since it might be rather difficult to remember all the combinations, choose a password manager. It will be the vault that stores all passwords for you.
- Purchase games from legitimate providers. Hackers like to disguise malicious programs as products of legitimate brands. Pirated versions often lead to infections, and still, netizens tend to believe the false promises. According to a Kaspersky analysis, crooks disguise malware infections as Minecraft, GTA 5, Sims 4, or not yet released games. In general, hackers conceal viruses as gaming cheats or other game-related content as well.
- Be anonymous and use a VPN for gaming. First of all, it is a good idea to have a separate email address for gaming accounts. When choosing your nickname, never include personal details such as your name or last name. When playing, refuse to reveal private information, especially your home address. However, you cannot disguise your IP address that quickly, and it does reflect your approximate location. Or can you? A VPN for gaming is the optimal solution for preventing IP tracing. For instance, even Discord, a popular hangout for online players, continuously logs your IP address. By connecting to a VPN server, you trick potential perpetrators into thinking you’re from an entirely different region. As a result, you will prevent swatting attempts and guarantee that vicious gamers won’t stalk or harass you.
Cybersecurity Researcher and Publisher at Atlas VPN. My mission is to scan the ever-evolving cybercrime landscape to inform the public about the latest threats.