Hackers will increasingly target young video game players in 2019, new report finds

Who can you trust?
Who can you trust?
Image: AP Images/Invision for Nintendo/Jason DeCrow
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In the online gaming world, it’s normal to play with or against strangers—and this is presenting an increasingly important security threat as the value of the industry grows.

A new forecast report by Experian, the credit and identity theft protection firm, predicts that video-game data breaches will be a major issue in 2019. Cybercriminals can “easily pose as a gamer, build trust within a particular game or community, and gain access to privileged inside information,” the report said. This includes obtaining personal information like full names and phone numbers, as well as passwords and credit-card details. The report notes that hackers can also steal in-game tokens and weapons that can be worth a lot of money.

“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, told MarketWatch.

While video-game hacks are nothing new, it is now much more lucrative because of the industry’s massive growth and shift towards selling in-game assets. According to Newzoo, a gaming analytics firm, the industry is worth about $138 billion worldwide. Juniper Research, a specialist in digital markets, also found that the skin-trading industry, in which where gamers buy and sell valuable in-game items, was worth $50 billion in 2017. The majority of Fortnite’s revenue, which was over $1 billion as of July this year, comes from selling in-game add ons.

Young gamers, Experian’s report notes, are particularly at risk, especially if they do not fully understand security practices or believe they are in a trusted community. And with the explosive growth of games like Fortnite, which has 80 million monthly players and is hugely popular with kids and teens, more minors are playing games and are vulnerable. Earlier this year, for instance, hackers manipulated children playing Fortnite to give up their parents’ bank account details through a phishing scam.

Data theft isn’t the only pressing concern. Experian’s report cites an incident from July in which a hacker infiltrated Roblox, a popular online game among kids, and made customized animations that gang-raped a 7-year-old girl’s avatar. “Female gamers have long been harassed and threatened,” Experian wrote, “a situation that will get worse as more people enter an unregulated gaming world.”

Kotaku has created a gamer’s guide that helps users defend against hackers. Some companies, like Xbox, have parental controls in place to monitor children’s gaming activities, and the US Federal Trade Commission has agreed to investigate whether children are being lured into gambling via video games. Until the industry is more regulated, however, the report notes, players can take added security measures like downloading a password manager or enabling two-step authentication.