Are Kiwis winning or losing when it comes to gaming security?
It's safe to say the gaming landscape has changed significantly over the years. Gone are the days of the first-gen ATARI consoles and Nintendo Gameboys, both of which had no internet connection or access. Whether it's online via a Sony or Microsoft Console or a PC, the internet now drives the future of gaming.
What started as a simple timewaster has now evolved into a multibillion-dollar industry, encompassing sports, competition and celebrity. Online gaming has created endless opportunities for creators and interested parties to share their gaming experiences with the world, and new communities are popping up each and every day.
Many of these communities are based right here in Aotearoa, and according to the IGEA NZ 2022 report, COVID-19 has increased gaming statistics significantly. 3.7 million Kiwis (73%) were reported to play video games in general, with one in three reported to actively participate in posting gameplay and communicating online.
Communities such as esports, live/twitch streaming and game development are also on the rise in NZ, with 86% of respondents believing that the gaming industry is important for our economy and 72% saying that the government should incentivise the gaming industry.
So as a country, it's clear we love gaming and are entering the realm at rapid speed. But as with all online activity, significant risks come with this kind of rising engagement. The gaming space is a breeding ground for cybersecurity threats and scams, with threat actors who exploit both the technical and psychological side of the gaming experience.
Kiwi gamers have been hit hard financially in the past, with a Norton study revealing that two out of five gamers in New Zealand have experienced a cyber attack in 2021. The average amount of money lost in these attacks is more than $700, which is concerning given the fact that a large majority of gamers are still under the age of 18. In comparison, US gamers only lost on average $104, signalling a significant problem in Aotearoa.
67% of respondents were subject to a financial impact of some kind, and previously reported in a recent Techday article, NortonLifeLock's senior director APAC Mark Gorrie called for better gaming safety.
"New Zealand is a small affluent nation, making it a prime target for cybercriminals. The financial losses of gamers should serve as a wake-up call to gamers to start improving their digital hygiene," he said.
Online gamer BigCheeseKIT also stated in the article that the nationwide gaming security issue was widespread, and various communities in the casual and professional gaming sectors are at risk.
"I've learned that when you're gaming online, it's so important to be mindful of who you are friends with online and what information you share when gaming online. While this is especially true for professional gamers who have that public profile, it's clear this goes for any online gamer," he remarked.
Doxing was a key threat discovered in the survey, and nearly one in five (19%) reported that they had been doxed or had personal information stolen and shared publicly online. Many Kiwi gamers were also found to be exploiting loopholes and cheats to gain a competitive edge, therefore heightening the risk of being attacked and exploited.
"Unfortunately, cybercriminals are hyper-aware of the market for exploits and are using them to scam those seeking advantage in the usual ways," said Gorrie.
"They use dodgy links and hide malware in downloads that are advertised as rare items, in-game currency, or exploits to provide a competitive edge. Clicking a malicious link can lead to losing control of your data, passwords, accounts and financial details."
While there are a multitude of threats out there in the NZ gaming community, there are also forces at work to try to keep gamers safe. With esports being one of the key gaming trends on the rise, we spoke to the CEO of the New Zealand Esports Federation, Jonathan Jansen, who revealed what is being done to help keep the sport safe and what gamers can do to increase their personal safety.
"Due to its rigid structure and nature, esports is a much more secure way of engaging in gaming than being left to your own devices on the world wide web," he says.
Nothing is without risk however, he says.
"Speaking to gaming generally, cybersecurity issues may include things such as the source of where you download your games, registering for websites/games using the same passwords, lack of information about how your information is stored, encrypted or processed, sharing of game accounts linked to personal information, social engineering and phishing."
Jansen says that being informed and educated is the key to harnessing and promoting safe gaming behaviour, and the NZESF have strict standards and security practices in place to prevent a variety of cybersecurity issues.
"Education plays a large role in creating safer esport communities," he says.
"The first line of defence is the New Zealand Esport Federation Sanctioned Event process. Esport organisations who have had their processes verified to a high standard, including appropriate management of data, police background checks and other best practices will use our mark as a sign of trust."
On advice for casual and competitive gamers in New Zealand, Jansen believes there are a few key things to keep in mind, mainly involving being aware and cautious around opportunities that arise.
"If it sounds too good to be true – it usually is! It's tempting for gamers to go out there looking for ways to gain advantages in games, and often times you will find them, but they are never what they appear to be."
He recommends only downloading verified gaming content through official channels and making every effort to protect your private and personal data online. Checking URLs for spelling errors, ensuring a safe lock icon is present, and ensuring data is encrypted are just some of the ways to keep safe.
While there is currently no funding for esports safety, Jansen says the NZESF is putting many resources into keeping the sport safe.
"At this stage the NZESF is working to create what resources and process we can to make the esport space a safe place."
Netsafe also provides a variety of free resources on their website to advise Kiwi gamers on how to keep safe online. They recommend checking the safety and privacy features on any device you are gaming on and reaching out for support and help when you feel like your security has been breached.
Keep It Real also has helpful NZ specific advice for parents of younger console and PC gamers to help them keep safe online, with links to the NZ related official security sites for the gaming channels.
While we are making efforts to keep gamers safe, our NZ gaming community still needs to be "on top of their game" to stay ahead in these times of heightened cyber risk.
In the words of Mark Gorrie on the state of NZ gaming security, "Cyber criminals will charge you for a fake cheat and then steal your financial information or logins. In their own words, Kiwi gamers need to 'get good' and avoid these dangers as well as have strong online security software to help stop breaches from occurring."