Viruses, Malware Creeping into Online Games

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Viruses and malware are words not normally linked to video games, that is until you talk to Michael Helander, VP of Sales and Marketing at Lavasoft. His software company has developed a new product, Ad-Aware Game Edition, that's designed to protect online gamers from viruses, a problem that's "increased over 600% in the last year," according to their website. In this exclusive interview, Helander and Malware Labs' Andrew Browne explained which games are most vulnerable to malware attacks, why viruses in online games is a much bigger problem today, and why consoles like the Xbox 360 and PS3 could be next in the crosshairs of people who create Trojans, worms and other forms of malware.

GP: What makes Lavasoft's online gaming protection software different from regular internet protection software? Don't all anti-virus programs essentially do the same thing?

Lavasoft: The difference is the way our virus protection software behaves. When you're playing video games, our antivirus program silently runs off screen, using minimum levels of your computer's resources, and does so without interrupting your game.

Now here is the key: blocking detection is not suspended when someone starts gaming with the Ad-Aware Game Edition, but alternatively the handling of blocks and removal of malware is taken over directly by Lavasoft. Competitor products (there are two or three other products like this on market today) actually say that the protection is "suspended" while playing video games. This is not good for gamers.

GP: What are some of the most common video games that get attacked by malware and viruses?

Lavasoft: Some of the most commonly attacked games are World of Warcraft, Lineage, Lineage 2, Perfect World, RuneScape, ROHAN Online, Seal Online, Lord of the Rings, Maple Story, Reign of Revolution, Talesweaver, and ZodiacOnline.

The growth of malware targeting online games has risen in parallel with the growth of the online games market. The number of online gamers in China alone is predicted to reach 65 million by the end of 2009 making online games a huge and profitable attack surface for malware creators.

GP: On your website it says that within the last year online games becoming infected by viruses has increased over 600%. Why do you think there was such a dramatic increase?

Lavasoft: Money. Online gamers devote time upgrading their characters, collecting items, gold and so on. Improving your character involves hours and days of play and some gamers would prefer to take shortcuts rather than enjoying the experience, which any avid gamer would find strange.

Virtual characters and virtual objects have taken on value in the real world where they can be bought and sold for real money. A thriving underground black market demonstrates that a significant amount of people are prepared to pay for them. Malware creators simply recognize the opportunity for profit and have set about exploiting online games.

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