Online gaming is exposing us to dangerous security threats
How much is my data worth? Not a question you might ask yourself when you’re in a hurry to complete the final level of a gaming app you’ve been trying to crack for weeks. You reach out to your contacts in the game for tips on how to progress, and Sarah125 sends you a link to a cheat guide. But Sarah125 isn’t a fellow gamer. She’s a cybercriminal. And she’s relying on you getting caught up in the adrenaline rush of the game so that she can trick you into clicking on an infected link. This will enable her to steal the data on your device and infect your home network. If you use the device for work too, it could put your colleagues and employer in danger as well.
A recent survey we conducted found a majority of people who play online games (64 per cent) now identify themselves as a gamer, with two thirds (69 per cent) playing every day and 85 per cent more than three times a week.
The risks arise when gaming thrills result in us losing control and entering a state of mind we’ve dubbed ‘gaming mode’. Our competitive, thrill seeking nature encourages us to lower our barriers and make poor decisions when it comes to security. Beating an opponent takes precedence over keeping information secure.
In this article, I’ll examine the common security mistakes people make when experiencing the thrills of a game and outline my tips for staying safe online.
Our interactions online today
Video games have come a long way since they first emerged in the 1970s, and in the last decade, the gaming industry has exploited advances in technology, improvements in broadband connectivity and networking, to create more dynamic and interactive experiences for players. Our study found that while people enjoy playing a wide range of games, the most popular today involve competing and interacting with others online (49 per cent).
With interactive gameplay now so common, a new world of potential security threats has emerged, many of which centre on our trust for fellow gamers.
Interestingly we found that almost half (42 per cent) of people had encountered someone pretending to be another person online, and a quarter (24 per cent) had experienced someone asking suspicious questions about their personal information. Of those surveyed 17 per cent had had someone ask them for financial information and attempt to use their log-ins.
Despite these figures, the relationships forged in gaming environments are more trusted than in dating environments. When asked which platform they trust most when it comes to meeting someone in real life that they had interacted with online, more people were trusting of other gamers (22 per cent) than people on dating websites (17 per cent). With the social element of gaming secondary to the game itself, it’s clear people feel more trusting despite the opportunities it presents to pretend to be someone else.
This assumption can cost gamers dearly.
The risks of gaming blindly
When you’re in ‘gaming mode’ you relax your barriers to external security threats so it’s vital to take the proper precautions to protect your information. However, only 17 per cent of people we surveyed said they had internet security software installed on the smartphone they use for gaming (62 per cent for PC). One in ten respondents even said they had switched this off in order to improve their gaming experience.
While most people are aware of the dangers of sharing sensitive information online, our study found that nearly half (48 per cent) of children aged 11-16 regularly share their real name and age when gaming online.
As online games create social spaces for interactions, the presence of such a large online community of anonymous strangers and the unfiltered, unmoderated discussions, can pose risks to the safety of children and adults alike.
Although online gaming poses many risks, there are a number of simple steps you can take to ensure you are protected. The most obvious starting point is to ensure that you have internet security on the device you are using. Viruses and malware lurk in apps and add-ons so be careful what you click on or download.
Our research also found half (49 per cent) of respondents had spent money getting additional add-ons for gaming apps (such as a skin, mod, weapon, or costumes for characters) through unofficial sources, opening up the possibility for financial information to be stolen and used illegally. You must be careful what information you share. Personal and financial details should not be sent to people you don’t know are genuine.
Fraudsters infiltrate online games and interact with people to get information they can use. Our survey found nearly a fifth (18 per cent) of respondents said they had the experience of discovering a person they had befriended was not who they thought they were.
Password security is vital for protection across platforms and gaming is no exception. Gamers need to regularly change log-ins and avoid using the same password for other online accounts.
Finally, gamers must not game blindly. Be sensible about clicking on links, don’t share personal or financial details and if you suspect your device might have been infected take action to protect your information.
So remember, don’t play the game cybercriminals want you to. Be aware of ‘gaming mode’ when you open your gaming app or log onto your PC to take down an opponent. Protect what matters most by keeping your information secure.