In the weeks leading up to Christmas the number of online transactions increases dramatically - and with it our risk of being targeted by cyber-criminals. Many of us will spend money on technology this year. Maybe we'll treat ourselves, or our children, to the latest games console, smartphone or laptop. It's always a relief when a transaction is complete and the present is paid for, wrapped-up and placed underneath the tree. But this is not the time to switch off our security radar. We also need to give some thought to staying safe online when using the device.
Kaspersky Lab counted 11.7 million attacks on gamers in 2013 - that's an average of 34,000 attacks daily!
There are plenty of phishing scams, designed to trick their victims into paying for discounts on gaming goods.
There's a black market in stolen game accounts, with underground forums selling stolen usernames and passwords to well-known online games. Earlier this year a fake Minecraft tool, created using Java, lured players with the promise of extra functionality, but actually stole credentials in the background. And when Grand Theft Auto V was launched, a number of sites included fake downloads were offering free access to the game - but delivering malware!
Anyone who uses the same password for more than one online account is at greater risk because the stolen credentials can be used to gain entry into other accounts too.
There are dangers of another kind too. If you have bought a new games console, smartphone or laptop for a child or teenager, you need to ensure that they will not be exposed to inappropriate content when they go online. Most devices now come with parental controls that let you restrict access to age-inappropriate material or even prevent them going online at all (for example, if the device is to be used by a young child).
Here's my list of top tips for safe online gaming this Christmas:
- Don't click on random links (especially offers that seem too good to be true) in your e-mail inbox or on social networks. It's always better to directly type the URL of the site you want to go to, rather than clicking on a link, because a link can be spoofed to look legitimate but take you to a dangerous site.
- Use a unique, complex password for each online account. As we've seen this year, gaming companies can be hacked and login credentials may be stolen. If you don't use different passwords, all your online accounts are at risk. Consider using a password manager to take away the headache of having to remember multiple passwords.
- Protect your PC, laptop and smartphone with a good quality anti-malware product - i.e. one that goes beyond just using signature-based protection.
- Be careful when making friends online. The Internet allows people to remain anonymous, so you can't be sure who they are. Be especially wary of anyone who asks you to disclose your personal details.
- Only download games (and other software) from legitimate sellers. If you're downloading an illegal copy of a game, you aren't just breaking the law; you're risking infection since cybercriminals often disguise malware as legitimate games.