School’s out, but cyber risks of gaming may be on the rise

By Erin Ayers on June 23, 2018

No more pencils, no more books, it’s summer vacation and time for sun, fun, and cyber risk, as kids find themselves with lots more time for playing video games. Protecting sensitive information and systems while saving the digital world takes, like most cyber-related stuff, awareness, understanding, and effort.

McAfee’s recent survey revealed that most people don’t realize that video game systems, be they console or PC, offer up a variety of ways for cybercriminals to ply their criminal trades, but they do worry about their kids’ safety online. Parental controls are your online friends, McAfee points out, when it comes to keeping kids away from inappropriate content. However, there’s more to keep in mind.

McAfee learned that 62 percent of children play games with chat functions and their parents reported concern over online predators (75 percent), bullying (61 percent), cybercriminals seeking financial information (60 percent), and drug dealers (37 percent). They’re also worried that their children could download viruses (58 percent) or have their accounts hacked and financial information compromised (52 percent).

Online gaming – and nowadays, even if you’re squirreled away with an aging Wii, most games are technically “online” – is a natural magnet for cyber mischief. McAfee pointed out a recent exploit in the Nintendo Switch and other incidents, such as malware embedded in Minecraft “skins.” This latter effort of infecting unsuspected computers dates back even further to older games like The Sims, players of which fell prey to corrupted files while merely trying to download new outfits or wallpaper for their wonderful digital communities. Not that I have any experience with that at all, of course.

Never fear, as with any risk, there are ways to mitigate cyber threats relating to video gaming, other than not downloading anything other than approved add-ons for games and using stern security software on gaming PCs.

Most online games offer chat features that are great for communicating to fellow players – but it’s frequently tough to know exactly who’s on the other end of the line. My tip? Just shut it off. Most games function just fine without chat, particularly with the big multiplayers like World of Warcraft, Fortnite, Overwatch, and Monster Hunter World, etc. The games are actually more pleasant without a text scrawl or random folks squawking throughout a mission. Plus, people on the Internet are usually the worst.

Additionally, despite their worries, according to McAfee’s survey, 44 percent of parents allow their kids to play games that are rated above their age by The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB). A good tip is to go for games rated “E for Everyone” when buying video games for kids. This one’s not really on the cybercriminals, honestly, but video game content can be a bit opaque.

And those video games will get a workout – McAfee’s survey revealed that 84 percent of parents allow up to four hours a day of gaming. Don’t knock it too much – in addition to being experts in figuring out which castle the princess is in, gaming helps sharpen puzzle-solving skills, boost reflexes and spatial visualization skills. They can also prepare students for careers in cybersecurity – many games teach coding and programming skills. This is one of those risks that can create opportunity, with the appropriate level of management.

Editor Erin Ayers can be reached at eayers@advisen.com or found playing hours and hours of Skyrim.

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This story in an excerpt of the original. The content originally appeared in Cyber Front Page News.
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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 eayers@advisen.com.