Any social interaction online can make someone the target of a predator looking to make a profit, and online gaming is no exception, despite the close-knit community of users. There are a number of ways to manipulate gamers, compromising both their identities and their computers. The most common forms of exploitation are thus:
- Cybercriminals attempt to gain access to a gamer’s personal information (usernames, passwords, even credit card information) by pretending to share a common interest. Collecting this sort of information assists in identity theft.
- Crackers (criminal hackers) take advantage of known vulnerabilities in software or operating systems to spread various forms of malware (viruses, worms, trojans, and the like). Once one computer has been infiltrated, an entire network could be next.
- Predators use the internet for unsavory personal interactions, taking advantage of unsuspecting users by pretending to be someone he or she is not.
Online games offer the perfect environment for a cybercriminal’s scams to flourish. There is both anonymity and trust, which can lead people to engage in risky behavior. Similar to the mentality behind the phishing attacks that work so well on Twitter and Facebook, gamers are more likely to click on links to external sites that steal personal information if these links are sent by a fellow participant.
The more traditional risks are technological, but other dangers abound. Some games involve real currency to sustain a virtual world; consequently, “virtual crime” was quick to follow, including “virtual mugging,” carried out by bots. Another strange scenario mimics real life scare tactics: In South Korea, criminal organizations will extort money from weaker players, threatening violence if their demands are not met. Two other crossovers from the real world are cyber prostitution and virtual sweatshops.
Gamers are exposed to more online threats than most simply due to the amount of time they spend online: greater connectivity equals a greater chance of becoming a victim. In addition to following standard online security practices, like investing in top-notch antivirus and antispyware software, such as PC Tools Spyware Doctor with AntiVirus, gamers should back up their personal data, update their software and browsers frequently, and thoroughly investigate exactly what they are downloading to their computers.