This article was originally published at www.norton.com as part of their series on gaming and cybersecurity.
Written by Kyle Chivers, a Norton LifeLock employee.
There you are, finishing your last stress-filled mission. You’ve spent weeks on this game and you’re finally at the end. Victory is so close you can almost taste it. And then it happens — your screen goes black, you’re locked out of your account, and all of your progress is lost. You’ve been hacked. Now you have to scramble to lock your bank account before your virtual dilemma turns into a real-life debacle.
Whether you’re a professional gamer, a casual player, or the parent of a child glued to their PC, if you don’t have protection for your devices, you risk this hypothetical situation turning into an untimely reality. The unfortunate fact is there are many ways hackers can access your information while playing online, and even more ways they can turn that information into profit. With the proper protection, you can stop hackers in their tracks before they become a problem. But, first, you have to know what you’re up against.
Common video game threats
- The oldest trick in the book is still one of the most effective — and infective. When gamers try to find a cheaper or free version of their favorite games available for download, they risk downloading malware and viruses instead. This threat isn’t solely from illegally downloaded games. Cheat codes, items bought through third-party sellers, and even the occasional security gap in games we download legally could pose a risk.
- Account takeover
- Sure, it’s much easier to use the same username and password for all of your favorite gaming platforms, but that also means it’s a breeze for hackers to gain access to all of your accounts. In fact, hackers probably count on you not being able to remember multiple log-ins, giving them the ultimate upper hand.
- Swatting and doxxing
- After cybercriminals find your personal information, they could publish your home address and phone number online or send law enforcement to your home by reporting a fake emergency. Not only is this scary, but it’s dangerous. This is a hacker’s way of saying they know where you live and how to find you.
- Active listening
- When you’re having a conversation, active listening is a good thing. But when you accidentally leave your mic, camera, or screen capture on and mention or show any personal information, you may be at risk of a swat attack, dox attack, or your bank account being hacked.
Video game threats for children
- Griefers — players who purposely harass and provoke other players in order to spoil their enjoyment — thrive in an online environment. Having the ability to hide behind avatars and characters makes it easy to create an alter ego who thrives off aggravating others.
- Solution: Cyberbullies use online social videogames to find and harass their victims. In order to get rid of them, try taking a screenshot of the bullying. Make sure their username is visible and report them to the video game’s admins. You can also try blocking the bully to prevent them from interacting with your character online.
- Children can be natural oversharers. From their perspective, it makes sense to share everything about themselves because that’s how friends are made. However, by using normal friend-making tactics with strangers online — such as telling other players where they live, how old they are, where they go to school, or using identifying information in their usernames and passwords — children may risk putting themselves and their families in danger.
- Solution: Remind your child not to share personal or identifying information with strangers online. Even though they play together, they don’t truly know that person or their intentions. Sit down with kids and go over their account’s privacy settings to make sure they stay safe while gaming.
- Predators may create gaming accounts specifically to befriend kids through online gameplay. After gaining their friendship, they might lure children into meeting up offline.
- Solution: Research which of your child’s favorite games include social features such as chat boxes and mic options. This way you’ll know when to closely monitor your child’s in-game interactions and report any suspicious activity.
- In-game purchases
- Possibly the most common video game threat for children is one that mostly affects their parents’ bank accounts. Some kids might use their mom or dad’s credit card to make in-game purchases without their parent’s knowledge. And due to the existence of friendly fraud — when consumers make a purchase and then request a chargeback from their bank — it can be extremely difficult for parents to get their money back.
- Solution: If your child needs your credit card for making an account or purchasing something online, make sure you’re the one inputting the card information. This way, if there is an option suggesting using this card information for all in-game purchases, you can make sure the box is unchecked. It might also be a good idea to enable password protected purchases wherever possible.
Understanding parental controls
- Review game ratings
- One of the first things you should always do when purchasing a game for your child is review the ESRB rating (Entertainment Software Rating Board) to make sure it’s age appropriate. However, in many online games, in-game player-to-player interaction is not monitored by the ESRB. So even if your child’s game is rated E for everyone, it’s important to still monitor their online interactions.
- Set up parental controls for each child
- If your children are in different age groups, consider setting up parental controls within their separate accounts. That way, your 12-year-old can have slightly more freedom than their 7-year-old sibling, while still being safe online.
- Stay aware of future updates
- It’s not unprecedented for popular video games to introduce new updates that subsequently make it easier for strangers to connect with children. Many video game developers have settings where parents can receive notices about these updates and adjust their children’s privacy settings accordingly.
- In-game control settings
- Many popular video games include in-game parental control features. In addition to adjusting the control settings on your child’s account, consider modifying the settings within their favorite video games as well.
How to protect yourself while gaming
- Use strong, unique passwords
- One of the easiest ways to help protect yourself is by making sure your passwords are different across all platforms. If you want to go the extra mile, then you can even update your passwords once every month so that nothing stays stagnant. When creating your password, make sure you use a combination of upper and lowercase letters as well as numbers and symbols to make it as strong as possible. A long passphrase that only you would know is another option. You might even want to look into using two-factor authentication so that you’re the only person who can access your accounts.
- Don’t share personal information
- From using your real name or where you're from in your username — not good — to saying your personal information out loud through your headset, there are many ways you can accidentally let something slip while playing video games online. It’s best to make sure there are no identifying factors on display in your username and that you don’t share any personal details on gaming forums. You can even use a VPN to disguise your IP address to stop hackers from trying to gain access to your console or PC.
- Only download from reputable sources
- Third-party add-ons, illegal downloads, and cheat codes may seem like a good idea at the start, but the consequences outweigh the promised benefits. Keep your computer and yourself safe by avoiding third-party systems and ditching illegally downloaded video games.
- Use up-to-date, secure equipment
- Keep your worries to a minimum by downloading security software specifically designed to keep gamers safe. Make sure to update your devices and the software regularly in order to keep everything up to date and running smoothly.
Whether you’re a parent of a gaming child or an avid gamer yourself, consider installing a security suite designed for gamers to help assure protection for your PC, game accounts, and all digital assets.
Get Norton 360 for Gamers
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Editorial note: Our articles provide educational information for you. NortonLifeLock offerings may not cover or protect against every type of crime, fraud, or threat we write about. Our goal is to increase awareness about cyber safety. Please review complete Terms during enrollment or setup. Remember that no one can prevent all identity theft or cybercrime, and that LifeLock does not monitor all transactions at all businesses.
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