Online gaming was blown wide open a few years ago when it captured mainstream audience’s attention through its marriage with social media. As Farmville and Candy Crush partnered up with Facebook, millions of people let the dishes pile up and the grass grow waist high as they got sucked into these virtual worlds.
Of course, online gaming is nothing new, and the interactive gameplay that the internet offers has connected users from all walks of life, all around the world. PC gaming, mobile gaming and even online play through consoles has turned what was once a solitary experience into a social competition, where players can challenge ten-year-old gurus in the UK.
With so much connectivity undoubtedly comes a higher risk for security. Like sharing toys on the playground, your system runs a much higher risk of being compromised when sharing a connection with other gamers. Don’t worry, no need to put down the iPad and get productive. With a little diligence, and plenty of common sense, you can shore up your security and give yourself some peace of mind while you annihilate the enemy in Call of Duty.
Beware of Public Networks
This goes for anything you do online; avoid using public WiFi networks whenever possible. Sure, they’re convenient, and there’s nothing better than chowing down on some wings and beer while you dominate in WoW. However, without taking plenty of security precautions, these places are total hotbeds of hacker activity.
Open public networks provide snoops with plenty of opportunities to swipe your login information, or worse, your credit card number. Private, secured networks offer a closed connection with only authorized users, in theory keeping people you don’t know or trust off of your network.
Only Use Legitimate Sites and Platforms
This one should go without saying, but really, it doesn’t. So many people fall into the trap of downloading what they think is a new game, only to discover too late that it’s a malware-filled, phishing pile of junk.
Many scammer websites exist, often promoting bogus software and games designed to trick you into downloading a malware file. Don’t fall for it. Once you have these files on your device, they are incredibly difficult to get rid of, and wreak havoc with pervasive adware and phishing that can swipe your personal information before you know what hit you.
The moral of the story here? Only download games, or anything really, from trusted, secure websites. Look for a padlock icon next to the URL of any site you visit, and make sure that anywhere you’re required to enter personal or payment information for gameplay has at least an https:// address so that your information will be encrypted on its way to their servers.
Check Your Security Settings
Okay, let’s be honest, have you ever even SEEN your sharing settings? While online gaming is all about sharing in the glory of victory and the shame of defeat, it’s not all about sharing your files and everything else. The thing is, if you haven’t checked your security settings, chances are your device is readily allowing other users on public networks to peek at your files.
Whether you’re gaming on a PC or a smartphone, go into your security settings and make sure that your firewall is up and running, and that your sharing settings are set to where you’d like your privacy to be (otherwise, none of your business). Public file sharing, device sharing and network discovery are some big ones. Check ‘em, and make sure your device is airtight.
Use Additional Privacy Software
Chances are, you’re still going to game on public networks. Hey, I don’t blame you. But do yourself a favor, and at least install a Virtual Private Network (VPN) first. They are simple software programs that encrypt your data in a secure tunnel through the internet. Since your information is being sent to a gaming server, a VPN will give it an added layer of security.
Even better, as any gamer in China or the UAE will tell you, there’s a ton of internet censorship and content restriction that goes on around the world. Not only will using a VPN keep prying eyes off your connection, but it will open up your access to any content you want by routing you to a server in a country of your choice, thanks to their IP address blocking technology. You’ll have a totally anonymous and secure connection, all in one neat little software bundle.
Don’t Be a Statistic
Online gaming gets a bad rap with worried parents because of the inherent vulnerabilities in that type of connection. While it’s incredible that we can meet and interact with people from anywhere in the world, it’s also incredibly risky to our personal information.
Don’t play with fire, and don’t assume that your information is safe. Sharing in the adrenaline of the game can also mean sharing a connection with someone who is only after your personal information. Use that strategizing brain of yours, and play it safe. Avoid public networks whenever possible, keep a tight lid on your security settings, and use a VPN if a free WiFi hotspot is just too enticing.