Please note: This is an update to an article previously published by Equifax in March 2014.
If you play games online – as 72 percent of teens do, according to the most recent numbers published from Pew Research Center – you may be putting your sensitive personal information at risk. According to the federal Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT), several factors could put information at risk when teens – or adults – are gaming online:
— Compromised servers. If the software on a game server is in some way hacked or otherwise compromised, any computer that connects to that server can also be vulnerable. That means your personal information could be at risk if you’re playing a game online. By exploiting vulnerabilities, malicious users might be able to control your computer remotely and use it to attack other computers or install programs such as Trojan horses, adware, or spyware, or gain access to personal information on your computer, US-CERT warns. Gaming companies may also store your personal information on their servers, which could be taken directly by hackers who have gained access.
— Viruses, worms, and malicious software. Like compromised servers, you could be putting your computer at risk by downloading game files or software related to online games, US-CERT warns. Viruses and worms can come in the form of corrupt programs and may be hidden in files, which then install malicious software on your computer and steal any information available on your computer. This includes any downloaded “cheats” that claim to help you with the game.
— Insecure coding. Game codes used for online games may not be as well scrutinized as other commercial software and thus may introduce vulnerabilities to your computer, according to US-CERT. Even well-known companies may not be as secure as you’d think.
How can you better protect yourself when playing online games? The answers may vary, but generally speaking:
— Protect your password. Sites have different levels of password protection. Make sure that all passwords are long – generally at least 8 to 14 characters – and include both letters and numbers. When possible, also include a special character, like a hashtag or ampersand. Avoid using the same password for multiple sites.
— Pay attention to available secondary forms of protection. Some popular games offer secondary authentication methods. Secondary authentication usually comes in the form of a personal question that only you’d know the answer to or a second, different password you must enter before you can access your account.
— Make sure your computer is protected against viruses, malware and spyware, and that your protection is updated. Also keep your game software up to date.
— Be careful of inadvertently giving away personal information in online chats or in verbal discussions over the computer.
— Give the gaming company as little information as possible. Only give your credit card information to well-known gaming companies, and do so as infrequently as possible. Read the company’s terms and conditions to ensure against hidden charges.
You can also look for games that allow you to use PayPal or buy game cards that are specific to the game.
The information contained in this blog post is designed to generally educate and inform visitors to the Equifax Finance Blog. The blog posts do not give, and should not be assumed to provide, personalized tax, investment, real estate, legal, retirement, credit, personal financial, or other professional advice. Before making any financial decision, you should always consult with the appropriate professionals who can explain your options, rights, and legal responsibilities, and advise you on any tax, legal, credit, or business implications that may result from those decisions. The views and opinions expressed by the authors of blog posts are their own views and may not be the views or opinions of Equifax, Inc. and/or its affiliates.