SA’s 11 million gamers warned of targeted cyber attacks

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Local Internet industry representative body the Internet Service Providers’ Association (ISPA) is warning SA’s 11 million gamers to up their security as the industry increasingly becomes a target for hackers.

The global gaming industry has seen major growth under lockdown, during a time when it was already rated the third most popular entertainment genre in the world after books and gambling.

With more people playing games professionally or for leisure online, this has exposed the ease with which gaming consoles can be hacked, by both hackers and fellow vindictive gamers who have an axe to grind, notes ISPA.

Gaming and e-sports are growing fast in SA, driven by the unprecedented events of the COVID-19 crisis, plunging data prices, as well as steadily improving home and business fibre access.

SA’s e-sports market is arguably the biggest community in Africa, with many local e-sports players making their mark on the international scene, according to the African Cyber Gaming League.

In the past few months, gaming cyber attacks increased by 54% compared to January 2020, as cyber criminals exploit the increased popularity of video games during lockdown, according Kaspersky Lab.

Online gaming Web sites can be accessed via PCs, mobile phones and dedicated gaming consoles, with the latter being a powerful tool that can be used to invade privacy, harm targeted gamers emotionally, professionally and financially, and even disrupt the network of the gamer’s Internet service provider.

André van der Walt, chairman of ISPA, warns that with more gamers online, the rising attacks on the gaming industry can be influenced by multiple factors: criminals are after personal identifiable information, or card details or other banking credentials linked to the gaming Web site. An attack can also happen as a result of an online altercation with a fellow gamer.

“Our advice to gamers is to be courteous and respectful online. Do not trade insults with fellow gamers under the assumption that online anonymity is always guaranteed. Smart hackers can indeed find out the real-world identity of other gamers and this could be dangerous,” says Van der Walt.

Virtual world, real people

Cyber security company Akamai, which analysed over 10 billion Web application attacks between July 2019 and June 2020, noted the majority of distributed denial of service attacks targeted the online gaming industry.

Credential hacking activity particularly spiked when COVID-19 lockdowns started globally during the first quarter of 2020, notes Akamai.

In April, a hacker leaked the usernames and passwords of close to 23 million players of Webkinz World, a gaming Web site for children created by Canadian firm Ganz.

In mid-April, SCUF Gaming experienced an incident in which 1.1 million customers’ e-mails, shipping and billing addresses were exposed online. The hacker claimed to have copied all the data and demanded a ransom.

ISPA advises gamers to keep their software up to date with regular system updates and guard against intrusion by fake e-mails, software plug-ins and add-ons that wish to gain illegitimate access.

“Acknowledge that the virtual world is made up of real people, so the rules of real-world engagement still apply. You must be respectful; gaming is a sport and gamers must endeavour to be good sports people,” notes Van der Walt.

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