The next big risk to your privacy: Your child’s video-game habit

Be careful who you play with.

Online gaming is a growing target for hackers, a new report from identity theft protection firm Experian EXPN, +1.63%   found. Cyber criminals are increasingly posing as gamers to gain access to the computers and personal data of players, its 2019 Data Breach Industry Forecast predicted.

“We are not trying to imply all gamers are hackers, but they do live in an anonymous environment, have good computer skills, and are in an industry with billions in revenue,” Michael Bruemmer, vice president of data breach resolution at Experian said. “There is a unique opportunity for them to be able to profit.”

The gaming industry is worth more than $4 billion in annual revenue, according to industry analysis firm IBISWorld. Cyber criminals can easily pose as a gamer or take over an avatar to infiltrate games and communities, stealing personal and credit-card information and valuable game pieces and tokens, the report said. (The Entertainment Software Association, a trade group for video games, did not immediately respond to request for comment.)

This puts responsibility on parents to educate their children about online security risks, said Sean McGrath, cybersecurity advocate at security service comparison site BestVPN.com. “The old adage, ‘Don’t speak to strangers’ can’t really be applied in the online gaming world, but perhaps we can still aim for ‘don’t thoughtlessly trust strangers’,” he said.

‘The old adage, ‘Don’t speak to strangers’ can’t really be applied in the online gaming world.’

— Sean McGrath, cybersecurity advocate at security service comparison site BestVPN.com

Others are less concerned. Hacking in the gaming world is a risk, said Chris Morales, head of security analytics at San Jose, Calif. cybersecurity solutions firm Vectra, but it’s well-known and largely controlled. Hacking in the gaming world has “occurred as long as online gaming has existed,” he said.

“Gaming has always been an arena for hacking and attacks,” he said. “In the early days that meant cracking software licenses to play games for free. Today, in the highly competitive and financially lucrative gaming world, that means bypassing developer controls to gain a competitive advantage or to impose disruption on other players.”

Still, new sophisticated threats raise additional cause for concern, said Darrell Laffoon, chief technology officer of security firms EZShield and IdentityForce. In the past a hacker may take over a player’s account to gain points, but today gaming consoles can be used as a gateway to access the person’s entire device, whether desktop or mobile, and hack banking information and other accounts.

Today gaming consoles can be used as a gateway to access the person’s entire device, whether desktop or mobile, and hack banking information and other accounts.

“Games today are very social in nature,” he said. “Even if you are playing a single-player game, you are connected, and your information is a valuable resource to the cyber criminal.”

To lower the risk of hacking, gamers should use a password manager for all accounts, he said, and implement two-factor authentication where it is offered.

Most major gaming apps, including Nintendo NTDOY, -0.34%  , PlayStation SNE, +0.68%  , Epic Games, Runescape, and Steam allow two-factor authentication. Be sure to only download gaming apps from trusted vendors to avoid installing malware on your computer, he said.

Users should also avoid sharing information publicly even with online friends they think they know. “Anything that is personally identifiable or non-public should not be shared,” Laffoon said. “Your date of birth and where you live can be used against you.”

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