Online gaming is a nearly ubiquitous part of gaming culture, but many are still unaware of the risks that come with it. A report by Spil Games reveals more than 1.2 billion people play video games world wide, with an estimated 700 million playing online games. While an audience that size may mean gamers have plenty of people to play with, it also means online gamers are at a higher risk for crimes such as identity theft. Here are some of the risks gamers must confront when they choose to play online, and how best to deal with them to protect yourself:
The most common risk that faces unprepared gamers comes in the form of viruses, trojans, and malware. The threat of malware has increased sharply over the last decade; Microsoft reported there were approximately 60,000 forms of malware in 2001, but that number had reached into the millions by 2011. The easiest way for gamers to avoid malware is to simply avoid illegal downloads of software, as they are one of the prime methods cyber criminals use to infect victim's computer with malicious software.
Keeping anti-virus software up to date can help you if you believe your computer is already infected. Such software, including Norton, McAfee, AVG and more, will also alert you to potential threats if you are exposed to them. Another way to protect yourself is to use a service like Lifelock to alert and help you if your identity is stolen by cybercriminals. While such services can help you if your identity is compromised, that doesn't mean you should run out and start downloading illegal torrents of games – you'll find no sympathy from the authorities if your identity was stolen while you were stealing games.
Phishing is when criminals pose as administrators, customer service representatives, and game developers in an attempts to trick you into revealing sensitive information. Commonly, these criminals claim that if information such as passwords or credit card numbers aren't revealed, players risk having their account closed. While it may seem like an unsophisticated method, it works; Phish Tank reports more than 1.5 million verified phish attempts. The easiest way to protect yourself from phishers is to keep personal information to yourself when playing online, even if you are simply chatting with friends. The less people online know about your personal details, the harder it is for them to steal your information or identity.
Phishers also use bogus websites and emails to reach out to players to get them to give up their personal information. Any communication that comes from someone claiming to need sensitive information about you should be viewed with suspicion. Some emails claim your account has already been compromised by hackers or that you've violated the Terms of Service for the game and about to have your account deleted, but they always eventually ask for passwords, credit card numbers, or personal information. Always verify website and email addresses from alleged game admins and developers – the reality is most legitimate game companies would never reach out to individual players or threaten to cancel their accounts out of the blue. By simply taking a little care with what you out out there, you can protect yourself from most online threats to gamers.