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02 September 2008, 14:42

Virus authors home in on online gamers

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Just because the trojan recently discovered at the International Space Station mainly attempts to steal access data for online games does not mean that astronauts play such games in their free time. But it does mean that virus authors are increasingly focusing on those who play what are called Massively Multi-Player Online Role-Playing Games (MMPORG), such as Lineage and World of Warcraft (WoW). As a result, trojans that steal passwords are now found just about everywhere. Figures published by anti-virus vendors support this conclusion.

In July, the contaminant Win32/PSW.OnLineGames came in first, at 13 per cent in the detection statistics – PDF – published by NOD32 vendor Eset. Symantec says that a stolen WoW account is currently worth $10, far more than a valid credit card, which will only get you 50 cents in the underworld. 5 per cent of gamers have reportedly already fallen prey to an attack based on trojans or to phishing.

McAfee recently published a 20-page white paper on games and contaminants. It states that the number of data-stealing contaminants has skyrocketed over the past four years. While there was an estimated 10,000 different types in 2005, by the end of this year the number is expected to have risen to almost 300,000, half of which are devoted to MMPORGs, with the other half focusing on bank accounts.

The ways of getting infected are the same as with banking and other trojans: email attachment, drive-by downloads on specially crafted web sites, and as a file via instant messaging. The client/server architectures used in games may also sometimes open the door to thieves if scripting is allowed. Scripted worms, such as those found in the virtual world at Second Life, are hardly unknown after all.

PCs used by gamers are especially vulnerable to malware because virus scanners are known to be resource-hungry. Gamers therefore switch off virus scanners when their 3D world is not properly displayed. Vendors have reacted by developing versions of their scanners specially adapted to gamers.

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