Online Games: Fun or Risky?Laura Rich
In online games like “World of Warcraft,” the virtual role-playing game with over 15 million subscribers, rules and guidelines keep players in check. But these measures can’t always protect against insidious real-world threats such as phishing, spam, viruses, hacking and theft.
Sometimes, players in these online multiplayer games (including “World of Warcraft,” “Dungeon Fighter Online,” “Second Life” and “Free Realms”) aren’t who they say they are. Hackers and phishers can create bots that pretend to be players but really aim to steal information or infect others’ computers. Thirty percent of all online gamers say they’ve fallen prey to some form of fraud, according to online game security firm ThreatMetrix.
“There’s tremendous potential for sensitive information to fall into the wrong hands,” says video game expert and radio host Scott Steinberg, author of Get Rich Playing Games. “You don’t think about the fact that you’re surrounded by thousands of strangers. Be aware that it’s role-playing at its heart,” he warns. “Everyone is always in character,” including spammers and thieves in disguise.
Understanding the risks and how you can protect yourself will keep your online game experiences focused on the fun, not your security. Watch out for these dangers:
Blizzard Entertainment, which makes “World of Warcraft,” notes that some of the most common phishing attempts on its game’s users include emails from people posing as official Blizzard business asking for a password, or urgent messages warning that an account is under investigation. Worse, phishers will show up in a game pretending to be Blizzard employees.
Avatar identity theft
Similarly, attackers will assume other players’ avatars to gain access to account information, as well as access to in-game “banks,” where virtual goods -- bought and sold with real currency -- are stored. These goods may be stolen and resold. Pretending to be another player also hides the real identity of attackers who use phishing techniques and distribute viruses and worms.
Much of the spam sent over in-game messaging systems is aimed at getting you to buy more virtual goods or currency, such as the Linden dollars used in “Second Life.” Fortunately, most of these games have installed spam filters that have recently stemmed the flow of these attackers.
Viruses and worms
Some sophisticated worms have been developed by virus writers to specifically target subscription information to these online games. Once the worms obtain that information, they can gain access to more personal data, such as bank accounts.
Fraud and theft
Many players buy game currency from other sources, such as eBay. Watch out for shady dealers and frauds who may try to sell currency they don’t have in exchange for cash.
For the most part, game makers have stepped up their vigilance in recent years by setting policies, policing their systems and introducing stronger privacy protections. But you still need to look out for yourself: Be wary of communications from untrusted sources, never give out your password or other personal information, and run anti-virus software on a regular basis. Games are meant to be fun -- with a good dollop of awareness, they can stay that way.
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