Gaming out the risks of MMORPGs

By Erin Ayers on April 30, 2014

Thinking about the less well known sources of cyber risk, my mind turned to online video games, such as World of Warcraft, Rift, or EVE Online.

Commonly called Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs), these games plunge you into fantasy adventures via your computer or console.

As an enthusiastic gamer and diligent journalist, for research, I popped back on to my old favorite server and played my favorite MMOROG for, oh, about 10 hours. Whoops.

When I came up for air and to replenish my supply of Diet Dr Pepper, I had a few observations, cyber risk-wise. MMORPGs have the same type of exposure as any other website where you plunk down your credit card and buy game time. In a data breach, that’s financial information that could be discovered and misused. There are many more risks involved that users might never consider.

Blizzard Entertainment, the company that created and maintains WoW and Rift, announced that its system was hacked in 2012. Blizzard was later sued by users who said that the company used deceptive practices by offering an “authenticator” service to protect passwords as an added fee. The plaintiffs said the extra security measure should be free, but Blizzard prevailed in court.

The US Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) developed a list of the risks online gamers can face to their personally identifiable information and their computers. A “friendly” person with the engaging avatar could trick an unsuspecting player into revealing personal or financial information, or in a fevered rush to get to playing, you could click on a pop-up insisting that certain software must be downloaded before proceeding and promptly be greeted with a virus.

With millions of people playing on game servers, the risks of picking up malware or other viruses surface as quickly as arguments between Horde devotees and Alliance players in WoW.

However, with some MMORPGs, players stand to lose just as much money via merely playing the game as they would through criminal hacking activity. One notorious example is the vast gaming space that is EVE Online.

Now, I’m not too familiar with EVE Online and after a run-through of the rules and options for playing this futuristic space adventure, I decided I’d really just prefer to watch “Aliens” again. However, one thing was notable ­– EVE has been a repository of scams for years, with players attempting to bilk each other out of millions of ISKs. ISK is the in-game currency for EVE Online, and go ahead, just add one letter …. You’ve got RISK!

The game appears rife with controversy and incorporates real time and, if you’re willing to skirt the rules, potentially real money to develop the biggest, baddest not-real space cruiser.* EVE’s end user license agreement (EULA) prohibits any exchange of real funds for in-game funds, but invariably, players find a way around this mandate. Trading goes on all over the Internet with so-called “gold farmers” building up stockpiles of in-game currency and selling it to players who don’t have the time or inclination to devote the game hours needed to profit, but do happen to have disposable income.

A brief trawl of the EVE forums indicates that not only do people spend money on such deals, they also lose money. Game creators prohibit the practice, but can’t police all of their game space, let alone all of cyberspace.

The question then becomes, is this a risk that must be managed?

For businesses, it seems clear that employees shouldn’t be playing games that could expose company computers to harm, whether it’s EVE, WoW or Candy Crush. Game creators have the same sort of risk that any business providing a service and collecting the personal and financial information of its customers would have.

We haven’t even addressed the concept of cyberbullying and where liability for this annoying and harmful habit can rest, but there have been cases where homeowners insurance policies have been tested for defense coverage in cyberbullying cases.

Beyond that, MMORPGs represent a risk gamers take on of their own accord – but it’s one that can be mitigated with education and security precautions.

*Another example where WoW and Rift represent the better choices, since elf armor and unicorns are a significantly better investment.30'

Erin is an editor at Advisen. She has 15 years of journalism experience. Prior to Advisen, Erin covered property-casualty insurance for 13 years as editor-in-chief of The Standard, New England’s Insurance Weekly. Erin is based in Boston, Mass. Contact Erin at [email protected].