Online gaming presents serious security threats
Although online security threats are often far from the mind of avid gamers, 2011 has proven that virtual realms can be breeding grounds for real identity thieves and should be approached with proper precautions.
This emerging issue first grabbed headlines in April, when Reuters reported that a massive breach of Sony's PlayStation Network may have compromised the names, addresses and financial information of approximately 77 million account holders. Investigators have since quoted that figure as closer to 100 million affected gamers, and the full extent to which hackers utilized the intercepted data remains uncertain.
Representing one of the largest online security events in recent memory, discerning experts suggested that a massive data breach was nearly inevitable in the video game industry.
"They have to innovate rapidly. That's the business model," SANS Institute research director Alan Paller told Reuters at the time. "New software has errors in it. So they expose code with errors in it to large numbers of people, which is a catastrophe in the making."
Despite the publicity surrounding the incident, the record of cyberattacks in the industry did not stop there. In early November, video game maker Valve revealed that hackers gained access to a critical database and may have compromised the accounts of more than 35 million users.
"This database contained information including user names, hashed and salted passwords, game purchases, email addresses, billing addresses and encrypted credit card information," company officials explained in an address to customers. "We don't have evidence of credit card misuse at this time. Nonetheless you should watch your credit card activity and statements closely."
To avoid becoming an unfortunate statistic in the next online video game breach, PCWorld staff writer Nick Mediati recommended a few simple but effective defense strategies.
"This one step seems obvious, but it bears repeating. Your password is your first line of defense in protecting your personal information, and it is one aspect of security that you can directly control, so make it good," Mediati explained.
Another strategy is to avoid transmitting credit card data whenever possible. Although some video game administrators offer the convenience of storing payment information for automated deductions, it may be wiser to process transactions manually. Gamers can also add a layer of security by purchasing prepaid gift cards instead, according to Mediati.