Something Wicked This Way Comes

About this guest author: Chris Hartpence is an author and the lead game designer for Play the Planet.

Image courtesy of chanpipat /
Way back in 2007, there were an estimated 217 million gamers, worldwide. According to the most recent statistics, that number has increased to just over a billion. One billion gamers, around the globe. That’s huge. That’s an enormous milestone, and cause for celebration. Unfortunately, it also has a downside. Hackers have taken note of both the sheer size of the gamer population, and the value of the gamer economy. Simply put, there’s money to be made, both in terms of the value of user names and passwords for certain games, but also more traditionally, as most online games have various pay options, so access to your account gives easy access to at least one of your credit cards.

Phishing Attacks

To provide some sense of scale, in 2013 there were 11.7 million hacking attacks made specifically against gamers. Some of these attacks were your typical phishing scams, usually timed with new console releases or equipment upgrades. “Enter for a chance to win a new Xbox!” and the like were quite common during the recent holiday shopping season, and of course, in the excitement of that season, and with thoughts of new gaming systems dancing in their heads, many people happily entered whatever information was requested of them for their “chance” to win the prize, only to find out later that their Christmas wasn’t going to be nearly as merry as they had hoped for.
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici /

Malware Attacks

Outside of phishing though, there are many types of malware to be on the lookout for, and these tend to center around specific games. For instance, this past year, a fake Minecraft tool was offered that promised to give users all sorts of fabulous powers in the game, up to and including allowing them to ban other users. Unfortunately, not only did it not work as advertised, but it was also stealing usernames and passwords in the background.

Another example of this type of thing is that when Grand Theft Auto V launched, there were a slew of emails pointing to sites that promised a free advance copy of the game. Well and good, except that when users tried to download their “free copy,” what they got instead was 100% malware. Key loggers to track their keystrokes and send your passwords and banking information back to the hackers who wrote the routines, either to use for themselves, or to resell on the black market.

Another large and growing problem is that hackers are increasingly paying attention to gaming websites catering to young children. Often, the malware in these cases will take the form of “exploit packs” offered directly to kids while they’re playing and promising to give them extra powers or abilities in their games, and of course, children being children, will happily “click this link” in order to get access to the new powers or in-game features, and that’s all it takes.

What You Can Do About It

In terms of precautions and what you can do to protect yourself, the first, best thing you can do starts with your user names and passwords. Specifically, use a different username and password for each of your accounts. Yes, it can be a little tough to remember them all, but better that than to have a hacker gain access to one of your accounts, and by extension, have access to everything because you’ve used the same login information for every game you play. Congratulations, you just made the hacker’s job a whole lot easier, and vastly more profitable!

After that, the next best thing you can do is to keep your anti-virus software up to date and all the latest patches applied. Also note that the anti-malware software called “Ad-Aware” makes a gaming edition of their product that’s specifically geared toward providing an additional layer of malware protection without interrupting your gaming experience.

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