Twenty years ago, playing a game with players from the other side of the globe was a dream. Today, it’s only a few clicks away. But cooperating or competing with complete strangers, who children know only by their nicknames, is not without risk.
Although most online players are true enthusiasts who love virtual worlds and the thrills of quests with other gamers, online gaming is not without its bad actors. This can present potential danger for a young gamer.
As with most cyber threats, attackers in the gaming community are typically after money. Account access and credit card details, namely. When you consider how many billions of dollars are spent on in-game purchases annually, even special items that your child has amassed in their character’s inventory can be of significant value to cybercrooks.
Then, of course, there are those that will go to great lengths just to manipulate, harass, bully and demotivate others from playing a game.
How most the attacks on gamers unfold
Attackers use various techniques to wreak havoc among gamers, many of them betting on human weaknesses, such as impatience or greed. For example:
New games can be expensive. Young gamers relying on money from their parents often cannot afford to buy all the newest titles, meaning they are at risk of being left behind by their peers. This perceived need makes them very vulnerable to social engineering.
Attackers know this and try to lure kids into a trap by promising a free version of the game. The catch is that it’s only available via dubious forums or a specific link. Of course, even if the game is there, it might have been infected with dangerous malware that will spy on victims, encrypt their valuable data, or even damage their gaming devices.
Then there’s the young gamers so competitive that they resort to cheating. Attackers exploit this common impulse, too, by promising to reveal cheats only after a gamer follows certain steps, or visits a particular website or forum, where they will try to gain access to sensitive data or personal information.
Attacks on the games and gaming platforms themselves
Not all attacks are directed at gamers. In some cases, the target is the gaming platform, game, or online gaming network itself. Some often-seen scenarios include DDoS attacks, which flood the platform servers with fake traffic; account hacking; and fake game duplicates that infect machines with malware.
8 tips for playing it safe
If you are trying to keep your young gamer out of trouble, help them with the right device setup and encourage them to follow these best practices:
1. Buy your games
Downloading the newest gaming title for free is tempting, yet free versions can be risky. As seen many times before, direct links or torrents of “free versions” of popular games often lead to infected files that are deliberately spread by malicious actors.
If a gamer absolutely must have the newest title game, it’s best to wait for the official release. Keep an eye out for special promotions or holiday deals that will lower the original price. Also, there are many reliable sources making newly released but used games much more affordable.
2. Update and patch
Whether your kids are playing on a smartphone, tablet, or a high-powered computer, they should always keep their devices up to date. This applies to the operating system, gaming client (such as Steam or Origin), and the games themselves, as well as all the other programs (such as browsers).
3. Install a security solution
Gaming devices should always be properly protected by a reliable security solution that can detect and block malicious attacks, identify dangerous links, and safely remove malware that might want to force its way in. If your young gamer is using a dedicated console, such as Xbox or PlayStation, this step doesn’t apply.
4. Use strong passwords and 2FA
Brute forcing passwords is something attackers are very good at. Therefore, it’s important for your young gamer to set strong, unique passwords for their gaming accounts. Reliable password managers can also help gamers protect themselves, as they can generate and securely store all their passwords in one place.
Players should also activate two-factor authentication wherever possible, as this will block hacking attempts even if the attackers are able to guess the right password.
5. Don’t cheat
Cheats might make the game easier, but they also ruin the experience for everyone else. They also lead gamers down a slippery slope, exposing them to bad actors and other potential threats.
6. Avoid suspicious offers
If something seems too good to be true, it probably is. There is no other realm where this applies more than in the digital world. Many gamers have already been lured into traps with the sweet promise of free games or special items, only to pay a hefty price.
7. Choose age-appropriate games
Parents should at least understand the gaming platform and games their children are playing. Apart from avoiding games intended for mature audiences, parents might be interested in avoiding less savory gaming communities. Do you know which games your kids play and who they’re interacting with while playing?
8. Keep an eye on signs of gaming addiction
Children love digital and online games. They may look like they’re hypnotized when playing, as if they were in a kind of trance. And the games themselves are engineered to encourage more engagement and more time spent playing. This can make it difficult for children to stop playing, sometimes leading to addiction.
If you are concerned about your child playing too much, consider these questions:
- Does your child still have hobbies and free-time activities other than playing games?
- Does your child seem happy only when they’re playing games?
- Is your child sleeping and eating well? Has their lifestyle changed in an unhealthy way due to excessive playing?
- Is your child losing friends or dropping other interests due to prioritizing gaming?
- Has their schoolwork been affected?
- Is your child acting more irritated, aggressive, or depressed than they used to be before starting their gaming habit?
The world of online gaming can seem like the Wild West, especially to the uninitiated. And while a gaming habit isn’t inherently dangerous, it can lead to addiction, bullying, and exposure to online threats. As such, parents need to be aware of the games their kids play, as well as the gaming communities that they’re part of. From there, adhering to the best practices above will help limit any potential risk.