Twenty years ago, playing a game with players from the other side of the globe was just a dream. For today’s kids, this is the reality that is only a few clicks away. But cooperating or competing with complete strangers, who children know only by their nicknames, carries its risks.
Although most online players are true enthusiasts who love virtual worlds and the thrills of quests with other gamers, it happens that someone with foul intentions will try to slip into the group. And for a young gamer, there is a lot to lose.
Most online attackers are after money. They want to get their sticky fingers on the accounts of other gamers, which contain potentially sensitive info about the person behind them, usually including credit card details. Moreover, with the billions of dollars being spent on in-game purchases, even special items that your child has amassed in its character’s inventory can be of significant value to cybercrooks.
Besides the money-hungry attackers, there are those that will go to great lengths just to manipulate, harass, bully and demotivate others from playing a game.
How most of the attacks on gamers unfold:
Attackers use various techniques to wreak havoc, many of them betting on human weaknesses such as impatience or greed:
- Social engineering
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. Similar situations make them very vulnerable to social engineering.
Attackers know this and try to lure them 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.
Young gamers can be very competitive and might resort to cheating to beat all their opponents. But apart from ruining the game for everyone else, they put themselves on the line – attackers can misuse the situation and promise to reveal cheats only if a gamer follows given steps or visits a particular website or forum, where they will try to lure out their sensitive details.
- Attacks on the games and gaming platforms
Not all attacks are directed at gamers. In some cases, the target is the gaming platform or the game itself. Some of the often-seen scenarios include DDoS attacks, which flood the platform servers with fake traffic causing its downtime, stealing or guessing players’ account passwords as well as creating fake pages of the game titles to serve various malicious goals such as infecting victims with malware or extracting their personal and financial information.
In the case of an attack on the game or gaming platform, the consequences for players might range from mild inconveniences, such as a short downtime or a request for a password change, to much more severe issues, such as stolen sensitive and personal information. Practicing good cyber hygiene might help reduce the impact of these kinds of attacks.
How to play it safe:
If you are trying to keep your young gamer out of trouble, help them with the right setup of their device and encourage them to follow the best practices:
- Buy your games
Downloading the newest gaming title for free is tempting, yet it carries significant risk. 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, patience is the key. There is always Easter, Black Friday or Christmas around the corner, which means special offers that will lower the original price. Also, there are many reliable sources making newly released but used games much more affordable.
- Update and patch
Whether they’re playing on a smartphone, tablet, or a high-powered computer, gamers should always keep their device up-to-date. This applies to the operating system, gaming client (such as Steam or Origin), the games themselves, as well as to all the other programs such as browsers.
- Use 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. You also don’t have to worry about lags or interruptions during the game, as most of today’s solutions have a gaming mode to avoid such disturbances.
- Use strong passwords and 2FA
Brute forcing passwords is something attackers are very good at, therefore keeping passwords long and strong can make a huge difference. Reliable password managers can also help gamers protect themselves better as they can generate and securely store all their secret codes 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.
- Don’t cheat
Cheats might make the game easier but also ruin the experience for everyone else and might expose the player to various threats. Play nicely and don’t use unfair shortcuts.
- 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 sweet promises of free games or special items and then had to pay the price.
- Choose age-appropriate games
You, as a parent, should be the gatekeeper when it comes to choosing a safe game environment for your child. You may look for advice on what is age-appropriate in local experts’ forums and recommendations. PEGI aims to provide you with information on the age suitability and content of video games
- Is the game taking over the life of a child?
Children love digital and online games. They may look like they’re hypnotized and overwhelmed when playing – as if they were in a kind of trance. That can make it difficult to stop children from playing. Games are designed to have such an effect on gamers. If you are concerned about your child playing too much consider these points:
- 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 being more irritated, aggressive, and depressed than they used to be before playing games often?
Screen time is not the only factor that decides if gaming is problematic or addictive for your child. When it comes to problematic or addictive playing, the most important factor is the level of priority that games represent in the life of child. If gaming has become life priority number one, you should be cautious and set clear and strict rules for measuring game time so that the child will have enough time and energy to stay creative and social in different ways. They can enjoy playing and stay safe if they have a variety of interests and reasons to be proud of themselves.
Prevention is better than cure: even if your child doesn’t currently display any problems, it’s good to have clear rules for healthy gaming.
Finally, don’t panic! Gaming addictions are rather rare among kids.
To learn more tips about how you can keep your child safe online, visit Safer Kids Online, a resource site dedicated to building a safer online environment for children. Developed by ESET, a global leader in cybersecurity, the website offers resources such as videos, articles, and expert insight, tailored for children, parents, and schools. Let’s help our children enjoy the full potential of the internet in a secure digital world.