What Are the Risks of Online Gaming?

Online gaming has become a widely accessed method of playing games. From first-person shooters to MMO games, online gaming is supported on several popular platforms including mobile, console, and PC. With the rise in high-performance gaming systems, screens, and processors, gaming machines are able to support quality multiplayer games.

Possible cyber bullying, stalking, webcam/mic compromise, malware, and personal information leak just to name a few. Although online gaming is very fun and can be addicting, there are several risks that are present that every gamer should be made aware of. 

Although there are risks to online gaming, there are things you can do to lower the likelihood of them happening to you. A lot of the risks can be mitigated with cybersecurity best practices, Wi-Fi security, and good communication with everyone in your household that may be affected.

Gaming platforms, privacy, and security considerations

Online gaming is extremely popular and with semi-recent technology, cross-play between consoles and PC’s has become possible. Mobile platforms have received mobile versions of many popular games such as Call of Duty, Fortnite, and Minecraft. 

Each of these platforms present their own risks and security issues; when they are mixed with these other systems there’s a much higher chance that several of them are going to be compromised. Once this happens, that threat can spread to others in that particular game. 

The threats I am talking about are phishing, IP address leaks, cyber bullying/stalking, and webcam/mic compromise. Applying yourself and performing safe practice with your devices can help protect you.

Webcam/mic and IoT 

There are a large number of game streamers on platforms such as Twitch, Steam, and YouTube; webcams and mics are heavily used with streams as you have probably seen.. They are also connected to the internet which essentially makes them attack vectors for the bad guys. 

Some of the most common IoT devices include: smart refrigerators, doorbells, cameras, thermostats, voice assistants (Alexa, Siri, and Nest), Roomba, baby monitors, TV’s, smoke detectors, lights, and smart locks. 

These offer convenience but at the cost of security. Too often are security measures left as an afterthought during development. The people that are making these devices aren’t hard coding the security features into the firmware.

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This creates additional security holes because at that point, security is just an add-on to that device. Having insecure IoT devices gives malicious users a personal peek into your lives and can change your very quality of life; but that’s another topic on its own…

  • Webcam/mic privacy

These devices are extremely common in PC and console gamers. This is often an overlooked area as well. An intruder can very well get into your mic and webcam using common offensive hacker tools. There’s so much you can do with these devices; from cyber stalking to eavesdropping, an attacker can havea listen into your personal life real-time.

A webcam is even more intrusive especially if it has a mic built in. We have heard the horror stories of people watching TV and notice their webcam LED light up when they didn’t turn it on…that was an intrusion; a violation of privacy at its most intimate.

I will foot stomp this, update your firmware for your webcams! If your camera is built into a TV like a smart TV, update that TV through the firmware settings. I’m telling you the small peripheral and IoT devices are easy targets because they are the most overlooked by the users in terms of security.

  • IoT concerns

Internet of things or IoT devices include anything that can transmit/receive data through an internet connection. This means your wif-fi cameras in your house that you can control at work through a web interface is an IoT device. Same goes for a smart fridge such as the Samsung Family Hub line. 

Think of anything that is connected to the internet as a window or door to your house; if any of them are left unlocked or open, then an intruder can get in. The same applies to devices that connect to your wi-fi, if you lock them down with good security it will be harder for intruders to penetrate your defenses.

A smart TV used for gaming that is outfitted with a mic or webcam can pose a privacy risk. If the device firmware isn’t updated (through your smart TV menu ->settings) then that is a ‘window or door’ into your home. It can be especially invasive if your TV is in your bedroom or living room that sees a lot of foot traffic.

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The best way to secure these is to be diligent with the updates. They are almost always purely security updates. Some devices have auto update configurations; if you don’t want to be constantly checking the device for updates you can set it to auto download (if applicable). 

One last thing to note about IoT devices is that they have notoriously weak security and they are considered low hanging fruit to black hats (malicious hackers). Some devices don’t provide a way to change the default credentials either!

Young gamer privacy overview

A great many games that are child friendly are readily accessible on mobile devices, consoles, and PC’s; a lot of them free especially on mobile platforms. Because children are unfamiliar with the serious risks of cyber bullying, stalking, and predators, they are unaware that those very threats are persistent and common.

Cyber bullying can take place in multi-player games with the in-game chat (either voice or text). Kids are brutal to each other online especially with heavily competitive games. As a general rule, it is best to not allow your children to voice chat/text strangers in online games. 

Things that you can do to prevent young gamers from becoming victims to cyber bullying are:

  • Disable voice-chat receive and transmit volume
  • Teach your children not to talk to strangers online and if someone approaches to ignore them
  • Monitor the kids gaming time and consider placing some sort of access control method for what games are allowed during certain times
  • Talk about the young gamers about the long term effects of cyber bullying (suicide, depression, social withdrawel etc.)

Cyber stalking is another threat that young gamers can face. It can begin with a voice chat in-game as an introduction to which the child may become too trusting and friendly with the predator. That predator may then gain additional information from the young gamer like physical address, IP address, full name, if there are parents or adults in the house etc.

This can be especially damaging if the child is attention deprived and craves for some sort of interaction with a  human being. They may not be getting it at home but that ‘nice’ man is giving it to them…

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The same mitigation techniques for cyber bullying can be used to help lower the risk of stalking and predator interaction as well. If you suspect your child is being contacted by a stalker or predator, contact the authorities immediately. 

A segway into the personal lives of gamers including children is illegal downloading of copyrighted software AKA pirating…

How to avoid pirated games and avoid malware

Sometimes gamers don’t want to pay for games in which case they may download a pirated game or other software; this can be done using torrent websites that are transported via peer-to-peer network (P2P).

Not only will your ISP be able to log your traffic to and from those websites to include downloads, but they may send you a warning letter stop all activity to those domains. If you refuse, service may be cutoff or worse….legal action may commence.

Your ISP isn’t the worst thing you should be worried about. In addition to illegally downloading copyrighted material, a lot of it is riddled with malware. This can lead to keylogging, webcam capture, mic hijacking, and stalking.

Your anti-virus should block the download immediately or at least prompt you to proceed or stop the install. Additional anti-malware can also block access to torrent sites or can give you a safety warning.

The best ways to avoid malware from illegal downloads are…

  • Only download games and software from reputable sources even if you have to pay for them
  • Install additional anti-malware to scan for malicious downloads
  • Block P2P web pages through your router/firewall

Mobile gaming and app security 

Another big concern for younger gamers is mobile gaming. There are several games on the different app stores that are full of malware, developed by countries known for privacy invasion, and are a huge security risk.

Some apps to avoid that are known for spreading malware and/or privacy issues and are owned by Chinese developers. It is in your best interest to remove and avoid these apps from your mobile devices.

  • Cats & Cosplay
  • Props Rescue
  • Rotate Shape
  • Word Crush
  • Word Crossy!

Stay safe and game on!

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