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The COVID-19 pandemic has seen us turn to technology like never before. Many of us now work, shop, play and socialise entirely online. The internet has proven to be an excellent tool in keeping us connected however it has also provided increased opportunities for cybercriminals to target online users.

An emerging tactic used by cybercriminals is to create fake applications of popular games, with the intention of infecting devices with malware. Once the users download these applications, their devices slow down, crash unexpectedly and may refuse to turn on at all.

Cybersecurity researchers have revealed that attacks on gaming services have substantially increased over the past few months. Attackers deploy malicious software that can override the in-built security software of smartphones. Mobile security and antivirus protection are the primary barriers against these attackers, and users must maintain and enhance their smartphones' virus protection capabilities to protect themselves from data breaches and other malicious cybercriminal activities.

 

How to identify fake gaming apps

In order to differentiate between a real and fake gaming app, consider the following steps:

  1. Research the developer: This is the first thing users should look for before downloading any app. Each developer has a profile that users can view. If the developer's name is not mentioned or you cannot find any information online about them, the application may be fake.
  2. Carefully read all the permissions: When users click on the app to download, a permissions screen pops up. Many people click yes without any scrutiny. However, this is very dangerous as if the app is fake, users can grant the app permission to access crucial data such as call records, messages, emails, and contacts.
  3. Read reviews: Fake apps often have fake reviews on the app store. Users may see plenty of four-stars and five-star rates, but there may be some legitimate reviews as well; if any review states that the application is fake, avoid the app.
  4. Always download from an official source: The key message for online gamers is to only ever download apps from the official app store or website. Doing so will ensure the download does not contain malware and should protect you from most threats.

 

Further threats to gamers

Gamers are amongst the most popular targets of scammers, as you usually have to provide a wide array of information to create an online gaming account. Gaming is also quite a social activity, which provides cybercriminals with many opportunities to connect with their targets.

Common threats faced by online gamers include:

Phishing: The goal of phishing is to trick people into sharing personal information by imitating a trusted individual or organisation.

Cybercriminals are known to build fake applications that look identical to popular games. They will send an email to their target and alert them to a “security breach” on their account that can be fixed by logging on through the provided link. The link will lead to the fake app and the target unknowingly will hand over their private details and login credentials.

Solution: Never open links received by email or text message. Should you receive an alert about your account, login through the official app or website.

 

Cheats and frauds: While playing online games, users may encounter individuals offering inventory or game advantages at discounted prices. These offers are generally scams and may result in your credit card details being stolen.

Solution: Never accept suspicious offers from strangers. If you are playing a game and notice players progressing very quickly, be sure to report them. They may be hackers.

 

Character and inventory theft: Criminals are known to target paid game accounts to access credit and debit card data. Hackers can steal this information by using password-stealing malware. They may steal user prizes and rewards from their gaming account, which they then sell for profit.

Solution: Users must be cautious about their accounts and never share sensitive data such as passwords. Consider installing security software that scans your phone for phishing and other attempts to steal account data.

 

General tips for cyber safety

There are some very simple steps that every online user should take to protect their internet security:

  • Use a strong password and change it periodically. Consider opting for a two-step verification process.
  • Install antivirus software, which is capable of detecting malware and preventing attackers from stealing personal information.
  • Keep your software updated. Many developers regularly patch games to fix vulnerabilities. Keeping everything updated can prevent gamers from being targeted and provide extra protection to your devices.
  • Avoid open emails that originate from addresses you do not recognise and certainly never click on links or download attachments from these messages.

 

Cybercriminals are always looking for new ways to trick us into handing over our personal details. It’s our job to stay one step ahead by keeping us to date with emerging threats, doing our research before downloading any apps and installing the latest in security software to protect all of our devices from being scammed.