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Malware in game hacks might deliver Pyrrhic victories
Fri, 19th Apr 2013
FYI, this story is more than a year old

Gamer? Sick of the hacks? Here’s what may appear like some good news to get one back over on the miscreants who ruin it for everyone by cheating. New research from AVG shows that some 90% of h@x, cheats and unofficial mods are infected with malware.

Now that the schadenfruedemoment is over for the one or two gamers who play by the rules, it’s time to serious up a bit. Michael McKinnon, security advisor at AVG, points out that this sort of malware puts innocent kids at risk (yes, most of the opponents who thoroughly own you are probably 12 year olds).

“These exploits target a vulnerable age group that comes across the temptations of using cheats or mods very easily,” he says. “It becomes normalised behaviour to seek out and install hacks, cracks and cheats.”

Oh, the moral turpitude; don’t parents tell their kids about the value of honesty any more, even in the cyberworld? Probably not, judging by this writer’s experiences of cheats in Call of Duty.

Moralising aside, McKinnon says the prevalence of cheating presents ‘an amazing opportunity’ for malware writers, one reminiscent of the days of steganography, when nothing more than a naughty JPEG could entice all manner of netizens to click to see.

“It’s passwords and credentials that the attackers are after. Some of that may be related to stealing in-game artefacts and currency, others may be targeted at getting to real-world assets – identity theft or bank passwords,” McKinnon notes. That, presumably, would apply more to the mature gamer, since not many 12 year olds we know have the sort of bank balances that would buy more than a bag of lollies.

It’s a pretty sensible place for attackers to target, since this is something of an open door or a weak spot; McKinnon says all the computer security basics apply to keep yourself somewhat secure. “Make sure your OS is up to date, you have an internet security solution which has the latest updates, use different passwords for games than you do for banking and other services.”

There is, he agrees, safety in the herd. “A lot of people are still not doing the basics and that leaves them vulnerable. Just following what we can call basic security best-practice will leave you secure enough that you shouldn’t have to worry.”

  • Researchers from the AVG Viruslab Research Group says 90% of hacks (cheats, patches and ‘keygens’ that enable use of pirated games) are created by cybercriminals looking to pry, disrupt or steal.