Freebies for Minecraft and The Witcher were used to lure WFH gamers into phishing sites and hidden malware downloads.

Cybercriminals have been exploiting the increased popularity in video games during lockdowns to launch attacks. In April, Kaspersky researchers noted that the daily number of blocked attempts to direct users to malicious sites exploiting gaming theme had increased by 54% compared to that in January 2020.

In addition, for April, the number of blocked attempts to direct users to phishing pages for one of the most popular gaming platforms had increased by 40% compared to February 2020.

In the spring period where millions of people around the world were told to stay home with greater amounts of free time on their hands, many had turned to video games. Beginning in March, the overall number of Steam users (the most popular online gaming platform, community, and store) had increased significantly, with the platform reaching an all-time record for both active users and concurrent users actively playing games by March 30.

Upon noticing this trend, Kaspersky researchers looked deeper into the threat landscape of video games during the lockdown period and discovered that cybercriminals had been exploiting the increased interest in video games to launch various attacks.

Daily numbers of web attacks that use the theme of online games as a lure, January-May 2020

Oftentimes, users were lured by promises such as free versions of popular games, updates and extensions, or cheats. However, if users clicked on these links, a wide variety of malicious programs could have been downloaded—from password stealing malware to ransomware and miners.

The game most often used as bait by criminals was the popular Minecraft. Its name was used in more than 130,000 web attacks. The other most popular games used in attacks were Counter Strike: Global Offensive and The Witcher 3.

Furthermore, according to Kaspersky, compared with February, the number of blocked redirects to phishing pages that contained the word “Steam” had increased by 40% in April.

Based on Kaspersky’s statistics, only 2.9% of the total number of web attacks blocked by Kaspersky sought to direct users to malicious sites using the theme of online games—the lowest in Southeast Asia. A possible explanation for this could be attributed to consumers’ preference for purchasing original copies of popular gaming titles. Said Maria Namestnikova, security expert at Kaspersky: “Many of these video game-related attacks are not particularly sophisticated; there is a large user component to their success. The past few months have shown that users are highly susceptible to falling for phishing attacks or clicking on malicious links when it comes to games—whether they’re looking to find pirated versions or eager for a cheat that will help them win.”

 Another Kaspersky expert, Yury Namestnikov, noted that “many players had started using the same machines that they use to enter corporate networks, (to play) games; their cautiousness should be doubled: risky actions make not only personal data or money vulnerable but also corporate resources.”

When working from home, if possible, try to avoid mixing your personal computer with the one you use for accessing corporate network, he said.

How to stay safe while gaming

Kaspersky experts recommend that everyone uses strong passwords and two-factor authentication (2FA) where possible, to protect video-gaming accounts. Also:

  • Be wary of any cheats and pirated copies of video-games, since it is one of the favorite lures used by cybercriminals.
  • Use a reliable security solution that identifies malicious downloads, blocks phishing sites, and prevents redirects to malicious pages.
  • During the game, do not switch off your security solution, but turn on gaming mode, which consumes less computing resources.