Security and Online Gaming
Online gaming, already a booming industry during the whole of the past decade, has lately been surging like never before. Take, for instance, these statistics from comScore, Inc.: in the U.S. alone, usage of online gaming sites has grown 27 percent during the past year to 86 million visitors in December 2008; the total time spent gaming online has spiked by 42 percent.1
For years now, consumers have been turning to their computers to be entertained by video games or escape from the routines of their daily lives by creating new personas in Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPG's), enabling them to connect with thousands of people around the globe. Partially explaining the current boom in online gaming, experts say, is the need to find low and no cost entertainment solutions in the tight economic climate.
“It appears that online, ad-supported gaming is one of the activities that has benefited during this economic downturn,” says Edward Hunter, comScore director of gaming solutions. “Not only have consumers turned to outlets such as gaming to take their minds off the economy, but as they curtail their discretionary gaming-related purchases they are turning to free alternatives.”
But it's not all fun and games in these virtual worlds. Virtual worlds mimic everyday life in a variety of ways; unfortunately, fraud and theft is included. And that means that the games you, or friends and family members, play on your computer may be putting you in harm's way, according to security experts.
“Not all is well in these virtual worlds, where virtual evil can become greedy reality. Online games are played by real people, including thieves and con artists who make real money by stealing other people's virtual property,” said Sergey Golovanov, in an analysis of online games and fraud at VirusList.com.2
It seems to be the same cycle of fraud that we so often see on the Web - popular sites and services that draw in high amounts of visitors and money, in turn, attract fraudsters looking to plunder a cut of the profits.
“Online gaming has become a massive industry over the last decade. Industry statistics tell us that in 2008, Western consumers, alone, spent over $1.4 billion on gaming subscriptions. With so many users and so much money involved, malware writers have the perfect opportunity to cash in on online games and virtual worlds,” says Albin Bodahl, malware analyst at Lavasoft Malware Labs.
In fact, malware authors are capitalizing on the transfer of cash and virtual goods that takes place regularly in online games by developing Trojans aimed specifically at plundering passwords and harvesting log-in details from users of MMORPG's. The scammers are usually after the credit card and billing information for online game accounts, and even the virtual world loot, which they can auction off for real world money. Malware Labs at Lavasoft works to prevent this type of fraud and to keep users protected by constantly updating Ad-Aware's Detection Database with newly emerging threats; a high amount of unique files in the online games family of threats are added into detection with every update, according to Malware Labs.
“There's little doubt in my mind that the amount of malware targeting various MMORPG's will continue to increase in proportion to the amount of new game subscribers,” Bodahl says.