If your gaming accounts have not yet been hacked, you could almost consider yourself a rare bird. Online gaming is still exploding due to the influx of COVID-era gamers, so online game hacking has become a profitable growth industry.
Gaming has become a $196 billion industry that is almost notorious for its many users who are blissfully unaware of even basic cybersecurity precautions.
There are far more security-deficient gamers today than there were two years ago. And lest we forget, hackers are often avid gamers themselves. That’s why there are also far more hackers active in the gaming industry than before.
Are Millennials and Gen Z’ers Natural Born Hackers?
Millennials and Gen Z were born into and grew up in the digital age. A significant proportion has at least basic hacking skills. At the same time, hacking tools, ranging from automated scraping tools to more sophisticated breach and attack tools, can easily be found online. The chances of sharing your gaming space with a potential hacker are pretty high.
Hackers Seek Out Credit Card and Payment Information
Online players spend thousands of dollars a year to purchase upgrades, mods, or cosmetics for their gaming characters. Games have prominent “Buy!” buttons, and gamers trust their gaming platforms with credit card details, payment information, and personal data.
Kids are responsible for a sizable proportion of that turnover. They often use their parents’ credit cards without a real understanding of the implications of entering into online transactions.
Gamer Data is Gold
Card information is a prize, but cybercriminals often play a longer game. Gamers spend thousands of hours online and inevitably settle into an online comfort zone where they feel safe enough to share personal information with teammates. Many players also use their kids’ or pets’ names, IRL nicknames, or other personal details as gamer tags or screen names.
Those tidbits of personal information can be worth gold in the wider online criminal communities, which use such snippets to find other pieces of personally identifiable information (PII). Finding gamers’ Real Life identity on data broker sites has become a minor step in hacking operations.
A Mushrooming Online Data Brokerage Industry
Data broker sites are increasing on the internet because, sadly, the nature of the industry lends itself to dishonesty. They buy or trade personal information from the dark web and other data brokers and then tantalize people with search result snippets. That lures shocked individuals into paying them to “remove” the information – for a time. It’s almost always a matter of weeks before the same information pops up on a sister site or even the same site.
Anyone can buy intimate information about almost anyone online. And it’s not just your full name or date of birth, but also things like the car you drive, social security number, banking information, social media profiles, where you spend your holidays, and how many properties you own.
It’s not just gamers who are under siege – its the entire industry
The personal data and payment details of gamers are highly sought after, but there is also an alarming bigger picture. According to Akamai, gaming companies experienced a 340% increase in web attacks between 2019 and 2020. Hackers steal financial information (Capcom) and launch ransomware attacks (CD Projekt Red) against gaming companies, but they also steal source code to sell to developers on the dark web.
The rise of malware delivery via “cracked” game source code
Tsk, tsk … where there’s gaming, there’s cheating, and many gamers have been tempted to acquire a software advantage. These are almost guaranteed to be malware in disguise.
According to CISA, gamers also face threats from vulnerabilities in source code, unsecured gaming servers, and game protocols not implemented as securely as other protocols.
5 Critical tips for staying ahead of hackers in the online gaming environment
Nothing can replace the great headspace of grabbing a few gaming hours after a hard day at the office, but gamers should become more aware of the risks inherent in using the internet.
- Use multi-factor authentication with either an authenticator app or a hardware security key – not just for gaming but also for your online activities.
- Use a password manager with an advanced password protection function. While there are a few good and free password managers, it is probably better to pay for this service. Free services usually mean you give up your privacy and pay with your data
- Don’t manage your digital footprint via one of the thousands of dodgy “identity protection” sites that have sprung up over these last 2 years. These so-called data removal services charge you to submit takedown requests to data broker sites on your behalf, but the results are never permanent. Instead, use a reputable antivirus or a VPN with a solid reputation for protecting your privacy to manage your online footprint.
- Always use a VPN online. It creates an encrypted connection between your computer and the gaming server, making it impossible for hackers to steal your data. Get a VPN with servers in your country, e.g., a UK or USA VPN, to prevent gaming lag.
- Use legitimate software – including reputable antivirus software – and always keep it updated.
The threats from your favorite imaginary world can’t follow you into your real-life world, but your online actions have real-life consequences. It’s best to build up your defenses before going out there with all guns blazing!