Watch out gamers, hackers have you in their crosshairs

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(Image credit: Shutterstock / aslysun)
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As the number of people playing PC games (opens in new tab) has skyrocketed, cybercriminals are increasingly trying to target them in their online attacks according to new research from Kaspersky (opens in new tab).

Back in March of 2020, the number of both active and concurrent users playing games on Steam (opens in new tab) reached an all-time high. However, this record was broken again this March when the PC gaming platform reached nearly 27m users (opens in new tab).

As with other online trends, cybercriminals are closely following this increased interest in gaming as they look for ways to exploit this trend for personal gain. Web antivirus detections for sites that included the names of popular games and platforms rose significantly last year with Kaspersky's researchers observing a 54 percent increase in the daily number of blocked redirects between April 2020 when compared to June 2020.

Even after pandemic lockdowns ended in the spring, the number of gaming-themed web attacks (opens in new tab) continued to rise before reaching an all-time high of 2.5m in November of last year. While there was a slight decline at the beginning of this year, the number of these attacks once again increased to reach 1.1m in April of 2021 representing a 34 percent increase when compared to March.

Gaming-themed lures

As was the case with Kaspersky's investigation last year, the most popular game used as a lure by cybercriminals continues to be Minecraft (opens in new tab). However, this year Counter Strike: Global Offensive (opens in new tab) has been gaining on Minecraft as the most popular game used as bait.

The most common threats encountered by visiting malicious links exploiting the names of popular games and platforms are trojans (opens in new tab) and malware (opens in new tab) disguised as free versions, updates, extensions and even cheat programs. Accidentally downloading these malicious files can allow cybercriminals to do everything from deleting and blocking data to interrupting the performance of a gaming laptop (opens in new tab) or desktop.

Head of global research and Kaspersky's analysis team in Russia, Maria Namestnikova explained in a press release why hackers and cybercriminals have begun to increasingly target gamers and gaming companies as was the case with the recent EA data breach (opens in new tab), saying:

“There are currently an unprecedented number of gamers in the world—nearly 3 billion—and it’s proven to be a great way to relax against the ongoing disruption. Of course, that does mean cyber attackers will remain interested in the industry, and, given that more and more people are gaming on their work devices, this puts company resources at risk. However, gamers can still safely enjoy playing. They just need to follow basic cybersecurity best practices.” 

Kaspersky recommends that gamers use a password manager (opens in new tab) to create strong passwords, protect their accounts with two-factor authentication (opens in new tab), refrain from downloading cheats and pirated games, use antivirus software (opens in new tab) on their gaming rigs, only purchase games from official stores, avoid clicking on links to external sites in chats and remain on the lookout for phishing campaigns to stay safe from these and other attacks while gaming.

After working with the TechRadar Pro team for the last several years, Anthony is now the security and networking editor at Tom’s Guide where he covers everything from data breaches and ransomware gangs to the best way to cover your whole home or business with Wi-Fi. When not writing, you can find him tinkering with PCs and game consoles, managing cables and upgrading his smart home.