A Guide to Safe Online Gaming

Gaming online is one of the most satisfying pleasures a person can enjoy. Not only does online gaming keep us entertained, it’s also a quick way of  escaping to another world, whether it’s at a table as a competitive poker player or as a phantom assassin in a complex fantasy realm. All of this can happen without you leaving the cushioned comforts of your chair.  

 

But just because this world is digital doesn’t  mean it is free from danger. The number of cases of online theft, hacking, malware, and data breaches continues to grow every day. In September 2019, for example, social gaming company Zynga reported cases of stolen data from their users, revealing how "certain player account information may have been illegally accessed by outside hackers".  

 

The company, which then had a market capitalization of $5.499 billion and over a billion players, is behind popular online social games like Farmville, Mafiawars, and Words With Friends. Can you imagine something as seemingly innocent as Draw Something, another Zyngna product, being used to steal your identity? The compromised personal information was allegedly utilized for phishing attacks.

 

Then, there are more pressing issues such as sexism, sexual harassment, and even the risk of death.

 

Are free online games fun? Yes, but there are some very clear concerns. The internet gaming space can be safe as long you know how to take the right precautions.  

The biggest security threats in online gaming

Identity theft

According to published reports, 75% of gamers are worried about their cybersecurity. Ironically, however, 55% of gamers reuse passwords across multiple online networks. This means  that even if only a single account is hacked, one’s entire online life may be put at risk. In January 2019, the popular game Fortnite experienced its second security incident, with the account information of over 80 million players exposed. That same month, the details of 7.6 million Town of Salem players were publicized because of an unprotected game server.  

 

Even larger corporations can fall victim to the most determined hackers. You might remember that in 2011, Sony’s PlayStation Network (PSN) was breached when an “illegal and unauthorized person” took personally identifiable information.  

 

PSN, which is an online service, was originally designed for consoles like PS4 and PS5, but eventually extended to mobile devices. According to a Sony spokesperson: the hacker obtained the following: “name, address (city, state, zip), country, email address, birthdate … it is also possible [they gained access to] your profile data, including purchase history and billing address (city, state, zip), and your PlayStation Network/Qriocity password security answers”.  

 

Going forward,  the Japanese firm advised users to be wary of releasing personal information on online networks.

 

In 2016, popular multiplayer game Dota 2 was also hacked.  Data from 2 million accounts was stolen and eventually disclosed to breach notification site LeakedSource.com.  

 

Stolen identities can be used to make in-app purchases; credit information can be used to steal high-value items; and personal data can be used to damage reputations. An email address can point to a home address and lead to actual physical theft. It can all very easily snowball.

 

Make sure you keep yourself and the people in your network safe by following these safety tips when working online.  

 

Actual theft

Virtual mugging is very real. In the early noughties, players of the popular game Lineage II used software applications to defeat other player's characters and take their items. These possessions were eventually sold online for real money. In other cases, players were blackmailed or threatened so they would hand over real money for very real-life consequences.  

 

Phishing and smishing

Phishing is the use of email to trick you into clicking something dangerous to your online security , such as a virus, or to convince you  to reveal personal data; smishing is the same trick except conducted via text message — which has become all the more important as increasing numbers of  digital gaming systems move to mobile. The danger of phishing is that these seemingly harmless messages are made very attractive to users, so they are susceptible to scams and malware.

 

In 2018, for example, a phishing scam was aimed at fans of the FIFA World Cup. The emails offered game schedules as well as results trackers. The subject line was: “World_Cup_2018_Schedule_and_Scoresheet_V1.86_CB-DL-Manager”.  

 

Some of the emails contained a DownloaderGuide, which is known for installing potentially unwanted programs (PUPs) like search optimizers and adware into computers. Other emails asked for personal information.

 

Cyberbullying

Intimidation is part of any hackers’ game and the danger of online gaming goes far beyond the physical. It can be emotional or psychological too. Sometimes a game can get so intense that there might be taunts provoking fights. Sometimes people are just big bullies. Online gaming, with its competitiveness, communities, and chatrooms, can become an easy place for cyberbullying.  

 

In July, Google Trends even reported an 80% increase in American parents searching for online help in dealing with cyberbullying—a rapid consequence of the increased online activity among children since the pandemic.

 

Malware and spyware

Malware is a blanket term for viruses and other malicious software. Cybercriminals like targeting online gamers because they’re usually available across various digital devices. Spyware, on the other hand, is malicious software that attempts to gather private information. Malware and spyware can infiltrate social networks, virtual games, chat, and email.

 

Predators

Perhaps the most harmful is when the danger moves from the virtual to the physical world, which is what happens in many internet-facilitated crimes. Online predators are defined as people who look to prey on children, but the meaning has extended to include unknowing individuals  coerced into illegal financial or sexual activity.

 

On a semi-related note, in 2003, a 17-year-old boy with the alias “Evangeline” developed a cyber-brothel via “The Sims Online”. Customers paid sim-money for cybersex by the minute, demonstrating just how easy it is to promote sexual activity online.  

 

Children, however, remain the most vulnerable, especially since they are some of the most common users of online play. The New York Times even described such games as “hunting grounds’ for child molesters. Predators have been caught in popular online children’s games like Roblox and Fortnite. Because of these concerns, it is imperative that both parents and children are educated in cybersecurity. 

Very important ways to stay safe while online gaming

It’s important to remember that it is safe to download games online as long as the proper measures are in place. Just as you would walk down the street, wary of pickpockets and speeding cars, you need to be careful online and establish rules for yourself when presenting information and dealing with other people.  

 

Be smart about your password.

Your password is your first line of defense against hacking, which is why having a smart and varied one across your various online networks is a must. In one survey, 50% of respondents confessed that they use one password for everything. It doesn’t take a genius to realize how one simple infiltration is enough to damage your entire digital life.  

 

Mind you, experts have warned that hackers hack, regardless of how easy or complex a password is. It’s only one level of defense and so it is therefore still wise to make it as strong and effective as possible.

 

Think before you click.

Watch those pop-up ads. Watch out for strange emails. Before you click on anything, be sure where it will lead. This will save you a lot of aggravation in the future.  

 

Don’t throw away your information.

This goes without saying but many, many people still freely release their information online. Here are some ways to go about living an online life without having to reveal too many personal details.

  • Create a separate email address you can use for online gaming. You might need a professional email address for work, digital banking, and the like, but have a more anonymous one for gaming or social networking needs. This will redirect game-related updates and spam into a catch-all throwaway email.
  • Never use your real name. Choose a username totally unlike your real name. Keep yourself as anonymous as possible. Unlike online banks, games, especially free games, aren’t very strict with identity authentication, so use this to your advantage. Don’t upload your real photo. Don’t broadcast your birth name. Don’t publish your contact details.
  • Get a VPN. VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. It creates a personalized and secure connection, shrouding your online activity in privacy. Just some of VPN’s features include keeping your IP address anonymous and encrypting your data. This helps create another layer of protection against information theft.

 

Install a security system.

If you’re a big fan of online gaming, especially MMOs (massively multiplayer online), which can be played on personal computers or consoles like the Xbox or the upcoming PS5, you need to be extra careful about securing your personal details. Thousands of players log on to these types of online games and they also have forums and chat rooms that usually run unmonitored.  

 

Give yourself some insurance by investing in top-notch cybersecurity software to take care of all the aforementioned internet-related issues. Clario, for example, is a one-stop, all-in-one program for cybersecurity. The app, which is available in Mac or Android, web or mobile, offers antivirus to provide privacy and identity protection, and everything in between. It also has over 600 security experts at its network, ensuring help and protection with your cyber-woes all day, every day.  

Keep children cyber-safe

Children are especially prone to online attacks. Not only are predators actively on the prowl for innocent young internet gamers, children are also naïve about threats to cybersecurity like phishing and malware. Make sure you always check your child’s online activity to make their gaming life fun and secure. Here are some tips to enhance their online security.  

  1. Don’t talk to strangers. This age-old warning is particularly beneficial in the digital age. Also teach your children potential warning signs and trigger words they look for when interacting with online users and might indicate predation.
  2. Guard your child’s online activity. Make regular checks yourself and ensure your children communicate their activities with you. As far as gaming is concerned, tell them to share everything with you, if something’s amiss, if they spoke with anyone, if the game becomes irregular. You may install child guards in your computer to limit what your children can access.
  3. Control your child’s online activity. You wouldn’t let your son or daughter loose in the real world, so make sure you keep an eye on them in the digital one too. Put boundaries in place such as limiting  online time to one hour a day. This will help regulate your children’s gaming activity effectively.
  4. Don’t let them download apps by themselves. Tell them that if they’re interested in a new game or app, you’ll install it for them. This will avoid accidentally downloading malware as well as virtual theft.

 

* * *

 

Many people seem to forget the virtual world is very much like the real world. We need to exercise safety and security guidelines to keep it fun and safe for everybody. And to give yourself that extra layer of protection, make sure you download Clario. This comes with antivirus and VPN, among other features!  

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