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Games, especially online games, are fertile ground for spreading viruses and malicious software. Here’s how it works and what can you do in order to protect yourself.
You could say that I was a gamer for too many years and experienced most generations of PC games since I got my first Commodore64 in 1986. Just like many others, I became a collector of 5.25” floppy disks containing free games and software. Although I’ve heard many were infected with viruses, it was only after couple of years when I first encountered my first virus – The ‘Ping-Pong’ virus, was circulated on a floppy disk I received from no other than my teacher at school…
When the internet came to the world in the early 90s, the relationship of computer games and viruses passed to the next level. The propagation of viruses through file sharing sites and distribution through Java-based online games began to spread rapidly.
During the next decade there were more than a billion users on the Internet. At the same time the virus has also undergone a radical change in the world, becoming a hobby of geeks who create viruses to challenge or to glorify their name at online communities, which organized business involvement with organized crime families which sold viruses in markets and also information stolen from computers that were attacked.
A good example of a virus aimed at breaking accounts of popular online games like World of Warcraft, Star Wars Galaxy, Lineage and Guild Wars is a malware known as Win32/PWS.Onlinegames (Aka: Password Stealer), first circulated in 2006 and starred many times in different versions on the list of 10 most common viruses in the world. By 2011 hundreds versions of this malware were released, which contained even more up-to-date hacking options.
Today there are thousands of Java games and games through Facebook sites with hundreds of millions of users. Most games today are designed for multi-players. The MMO has long been a global phenomenon, and game companies pass over to the free-to-play model of games where they expect gamers to connect to the game and then purchase extra virtual components in the market where you can pay in dollars for virtual objects or credits in the game.
Viruses use online games to spread themselves more than ever – among average users, most attacks come through websites with Java games, and among gamers mostly through file sharing services or through “cheats” that allow free credits or hacking tools. At least 90% of the hacking tools for online games also contain viruses!
A very common attack used by hackers is known as the Automated Attack – An attack that automatically scans IP ranges and ISPs endings. Most of the attacks know how to spot if there is a firewall active, combined with Trojans that allow information theft or backdoor that allows full access to the victim’s computer.
Another common attack hacks gaming servers – The servers of most large companies engaged in developing online games were breached in recent years and lists of their users leaked to the black market forums and chat rooms and hacker crime families. Many times the details include also credit card information of the users.
Another problem gamers face is that they usually disable their firewall before they enter online games. At some level, the action is reasonable, especially when trying to connect to low ping game servers in order to avoid lags, but this action exposes them to a variety of attacks other than the “normal” attacks for existing online games.
A very important point is computer games at work, which is really a great danger and are considered quality-targets in terms of the hackers, who can get their hands on a significantly more important information which can then be sold on the black market or computers hijacking, which then they can demand ransom for.
User lists are leaking and sold many times with the IP address from which the user last logged in.
Combined with the fact that most computer users and gamers do not bother to reset their internet connection unless there is a network failure, with a large number of gamers neutralize their firewall, the validity of automated attack on targeted IP addresses is a real threat – attack on a relatively small number of IP addresses allows the use of many attack tools in order to utilize the most types of existing loopholes in the operating system and software used for browsing.
When it comes to laptop also connects to the office network, hackers can steal the user name and password on the network, and use them to try and hack into the network or send emails on behalf of the victim through which attackers try to infect computers within the network of the firm. Even worse situation is when there is a VPN connection to the office – in such case attackers can infect the entire office network or steal information more easily.
Even high-tech workers who are not gamers, but allow their children to play games online, exposing themselves to identity attacks.
So what do we recommend?
- The first and most important – Never disable your firewall while playing online games or even when you are just connected to the Internet.
- A complete separation between your computer for work and for play.
- Do not be tempted to download game hacks from unknown sources.
- Do you log in to sites with Java games that are not recognized, and it is important for parents to make sure that their children do not go on playing without supervision.
- Never give up your login credentials, even if it promises to email you crazy business or hacking tool that offers you free credits.
- It is always advisable for gamers and/or parents of children who play online games to track your credit card spending several times a month, making sure there is no shopping trip ongoing at your expense.