Viruses, Malware Creeping into Online Games

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GP: When someone's unprotected online gaming account, say for World of Warcraft, gets compromised by someone hijacking their account, what kind of harm can they cause?

Lavasoft: The biggest problem is the selling of virtual goods from the account for real money, which might be tricky to get back even after appealing to the game's administrators. The character's equipment is in some ways like a trophy cabinet representing the achievements of the player in the game, which makes the loss emotional as well as financial.

As a further consequence of the hacking, the account can also get suspended which might prevent the player from playing the game for a time, something that can have social consequences since the player might have obligations as a member of a guild or another player-run organization (such as organizing and running raids) and as a result might face demotion or even exclusion from the guild for not fulfilling their duties. There are several articles that give a fairly good overview of the consequences of account hacking, such as this one on Hacking World of Warcraft and another from the user's perspective titled My World of Warcraft Account Got Hacked.

GP: What do you think motivates people to create viruses? Is it strictly about money or are there people out there with more malicious intentions?

Lavasoft: To be clear, the term "virus" is often used as the generic term for what should correctly be referred to as malware (malicious software) in today's Internet world. Viruses are by nature simply annoyances, but the financial loss is relatively low, while other forms of malware including spyware are developed and distributed with one intent: to financially capitalize at the end of the day.

Whether that comes through direct keylogging activities that steal passwords and allow entry to bank accounts and more, or through blackmail ransoms for corporate sensitive databases hijacked by hackers. It comes in different forms, but the intent is the same, financial gain. It is the modern day mafia.

GP: Can Lavasoft's Ad-Aware Game Edition protect against malware 100% of the time?

Lavasoft: Absolutely and unequivocally the answer is no! While that may shock your readers, we want them to understand that there is not a single security software on the market today that can protect against malware 100% of the time.

Current reports say there are up to 40,000 new malware applications distributed daily around the world. New malware mutations arrive daily based on advancing technologies and methodologies for malware delivery methods. Lavasoft has been saying for years that it is okay to use multiple security products, and it was repeated recently in a keynote speech at the RSA conference in London, annual conferences on cryptography and information security held in the US, Europe and Japan.

That's why we design our software not to conflict with other security software -- because we do believe and endeavor to educate consumers that the modern computer user needs a multi-layered approach to best manage their cyber security.

GP: Do you think that online games for the Xbox 360, PS3, and Nintendo Wii could become potential targets for malware and viruses?

Lavasoft: There have been reports of Xbox Live accounts being hacked, although this has been the result of an attacker deploying social engineering techniques to find information out about the victim in order to guess their password or the answer to the "secret question" account recovery feature rather than the exploitation of system vulnerabilities. That said, where money can be made by stealing account information and trading character attributes, it is reasonable to assume that these platforms could at some point attract the attention of the bad guys.

This story, "Viruses, Malware Creeping into Online Games" was originally published by GamePro.

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