Digital gaming entertainment has come a long way since the “amazing” era of Pong and Atari controllers. Over the years, everything has gotten more complex and sophisticated, and that isn’t limited to just the art styles, graphics, or consoles themselves.
Now, thanks to online gaming and internet-connected play through game consoles, the gaming industry can be a Wild West of strangers interacting through countless games. As such, data privacy and security concerns have become a major focus for both video gamers and the developers themselves.
First, to get a feel for the scope of the problem, researchers discovered some very unsettling news. More than half of gamers admit to poor password security practices like reusing passwords. As a result, it’s no surprise that gamers reported experiencing an average of five cyberattacks against their accounts or their data.
What makes game players such targets, and what are hackers even looking for? It’s complicated. The target answer is simple: as the results of the survey show, it’s not hard to figure out that password security might be a little lax among players and therefore their accounts might be easier to hack. But as to what hackers are after, that can be two-fold.
The initial answer is account information or personally identifiable information, as happens to any other victim, gamer or not. Gamers as a whole are no different than any other consumer who owns a Social Security number and a credit card, which are two very valuable items. By attacking a player’s account, hackers can potentially access usernames, passwords (which they can test out on other sensitive accounts to see if they’ve been reused), stored credit cards details, and more.
But hackers often have another goal when targeting a gamer: their game accounts themselves.
In the world of online games, players can spend actual money on virtual items that help them advance through the levels of the game. It might be a faster vehicle, a stronger weapon or an arsenal of them, or even something as basic as extra lives or healing abilities. Some of these items can be earned through extended game play, but many can also be purchased. Once the player buys an item, it is often at their discretion to keep it and use it or trade it to another player.
That’s the problem. If you buy a sword and trade it to another player, great. But if you find or “earn” a sword and agree to sell it to another player for real money in your PayPal, Venmo, or other digital account, you come out financially ahead. It didn’t take hackers long to figure out that they can take over a player’s account, use the stored credit card to buy outrageously expensive items, then sell those items for actual money to other players.
The scenario goes like this. You log into your game account one evening to find that you’re no longer able to access it because your password has been changed. Even worse, the alerts from your credit card company inform you that your card has been used in numerous high-dollar transactions. Since the transactions happened through your legitimate gaming account and were only used on the game’s site, it might be difficult to prove that you didn’t authorize the transactions.
In order to protect yourself from online game data breaches, it’s vital to practice good password security. That means never reusing a password, making sure it’s lengthy and random, and making sure it can’t be “guessed” by hackers or their software. At the same time, if you’re storing a credit card for online gaming, you might consider one that has a very low credit limit and isn’t tied to your other accounts. That way, if your account is breached, there’s only so much damage a hacker can do. Finally, remember that these rules may not be common sense for younger players; if there are younger gamers in your household, make sure they’re not playing connected games (multiplayer games with strangers) without supervision, that they understand the dangers of oversharing their information, and that they know the difference between a virtual purchase and a real one.