September 2, 2020by Dov Lerner

No child’s play: Why gamers’ activities on the dark web are serious business

What’s not to like about online gaming? While it’s easy to think of it as a means of fun, recreation, and even social interaction, it’s also a big money maker ‒ both for the companies that develop and own the games and for the most successful players. And online gaming business shows no signs of slowing down, as technology continues to improve and the coronavirus outbreak continues to impact the internet's role in our lives.

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So it should come as no surprise that the field of online gaming is a common topic of conversation on the dark web’s underground forums. Furthermore, it seems that the dark web has important similarities to online gaming, which can make both of them attract some of the same users ‒ especially tech-savvy and young ones. For example, the dark web and online games can provide users with a virtual community of individuals who share common interests and may want to communicate and collaborate.

But while online gaming and the dark web may seem like a natural match, they also make for a dangerous combination. The monetization of online gaming makes it a field ripe for fraud and cybercrime, and we can see that underground forums often play a critical role in the cybercrime ecosystem.

For anyone interested in cybersecurity or online gaming trends, that reality makes it especially important to understand the insights underground forums can provide regarding gaming-related fraud and its perpetrators. And, given that online gaming has seen remarkable growth since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, now is an especially critical time to glean as much insight as possible from these forums.

With that in mind, we at Cybersixgill recently published our latest threat report: Overview of Dark Web Threat Against the Gaming Industry. In it, we explore key findings from our large-scale analysis of underground forums’ mentions of online gaming. In addition to showing and explaining why cybercrime is such a threat to the gaming world, our report explores recent trends showing how this threat is evolving in the era of the coronavirus.

What’s the harm?

Far from a harmless prank or a way to make a game even more fun, this cybercrime can have significant real-world consequences.

ere are just some of the gaming-related risks we see take shape on underground forums:

Some threat actors sell cracked (pirated) games, allowing prospective players to play paid games without actually paying their producers.

More often, threat actors sell compromised account credentials, similarly making money at the expense of game owners. In contrast to selling cracked games, this is often a more effective method of using stolen information to sell access to online games (especially because of the measures often taken to prevent games from being pirated).

Some gamers create their own accounts, use them to advance to a game’s upper levels, and then sell access to these accounts. This can hurt the game owners by distorting the structure of a game, and it often violates the game’s terms of service.

Some individuals offer hacking tools on the dark web, helping other users commit gaming-related fraud.

Some threat actors offer tools for generating gift cards resembling those issued by legitimate game owners. This can enable other individuals to claim freebies illegally, depriving the game owners of some of the profits they have earned.

Some individuals sell cheats to online games via the dark web ‒ either instruction on cheating or software that can automatically cheat on the user’s behalf. Not only do these cheats compromise the integrity of a game (which in turn threatens to push users away), but they can effectively take money from qualified competitors by compromising the fairness of tournaments.

Some threat actors offer tools or instructional guides that can be used to attack either rival users or the servers that host a game. For example, we can see examples of users selling tools for doxing (maliciously publishing an individual’s details) or carrying out DDoS attacks.

Generally, we often see that when a particular industry becomes more prominent or profitable, it becomes a more common topic of conversation on the dark web’s underground forums. That makes it unsurprising that there are so many mentions of online gaming on these forums.

But while these risks may not be surprising, they are alarmingly serious. Not only can they compromise the integrity of a game, but they can also deprive both competitors and game owners of money they would otherwise be able to earn.

In other words, just like online gaming has become far more than simply a popular pastime, the activity that we see on the dark web shows that gaming-related fraud has become a major threat risking real-world consequences.

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