ABINGDON, ENGLAND: Just days after the launch of the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One, Kaspersky Lab experts have discovered that PC gamers across Europe were hit by a massive number of attacks in 2013.
Currently, Kaspersky Lab knows 4.6 million pieces of gaming focused malware, with the total number of attacks facing gamers hitting 11.7 million globally. On average, users were hit by 34,000 attacks related to gaming malware daily. With Christmas coming up and hundreds of thousands expected to receive games as presents, Kaspersky Lab experts are recommending users take the right precautions.
Spanish gamers were the worst hit of all, as hackers made 138,786 attempts on them from 1 January to November 2013. Poland was in second with 127,509, followed by Italy on 75,080.Here's the top-10 ranking of Europe:
1. Spain: 138,786
2. Poland: 127,509
3. Italy: 75,080
4. France: 47,065
5. Germany: 29,049
6. United Kingdom: 27,049
7. Ukraine: 22,220
8. Greece: 17,203
9. Romania: 13,778
10. Portugal: 7,458
Gamers face all kinds of different digital attempts on their systems. Underground forums are ridden with cyber crooks selling access to people's gaming accounts, such as the portal and marketplace Steam. The market for usernames and passwords is fuelled by attacks on the gaming companies themselves. Earlier this year, Kaspersky Lab detected a major espionage campaign on a range of massively multiplayer online games makers, with source code and other valuable data stolen.
Malware types target specific games, such as the hugely popular Minecraft. Earlier this year, a fake Minecraft tool built with Java promised to give the player powers such as banning other users, but was stealing usernames and passwords in the background.
When Grand Theft Auto V landed earlier this year, various sites offered fake downloads to access the record-smashing game for free. But when users tried to get the game, all they got was malware - a classic example of powerful names getting abused to lure victims into downloading malicious code.
Then there's the typical scams, like phishing. Slews of emails are sent around every time a big gaming launch happens, and at Christmas, attempting to lure users into handing over data or money with the promise of discounts or cheap gaming goods.
"We've just seen two of the biggest console launches ever, with the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One. That means there will be more gamers for criminals to target, especially as the Sony and Microsoft machines increasingly use the Internet for a fuller gaming experience. And don't forget the PC, still the most popular gaming platform and cyber crooks' favourite target," says David Emm, senior security researcher at Kaspersky Lab.
"As computer games continue to become an increasingly prominent and important part of our lives, and our culture, expect malicious actors to up the sophistication and the volume of their attacks on gamers. If people want to enjoy their new toys this Christmas, they have to be careful, as it's clear they are facing a greater threat than ever."
So gamers, especially anyone investing in a load of new games this Christmas, need to take the right precautions, investing in adequate protections and wising up to the range of threats they face. Here are Kaspersky Lab's top five tips for gaming security:
* Don't click through on any offers that look too good to be true, whether from your inbox or on social networks like Facebook or Twitter. If an offer does come through that looks legitimate, ensure the sender is trusted before hitting a link or handing over any details. If in doubt, contact the official company the sender claims to be from.
* Use strong and varied passwords across your gaming accounts. As we've seen this year, gaming companies get hacked and logins are leaked. If you don't have different credentials, getting one set stolen means all your different accounts using that same password could be compromised. Consider investing in a password manager, as it will give you simple, smart protection.
* Get a good quality anti-virus. With the rafts of gaming malware out there, and the increasing sophistication of the malicious software, you'll need some level of protection against it. You'll need AV that goes beyond signature-based detection to look at file reputation, if you want to stop the smartest malware getting on your system.
* Be careful whom you befriend. It's easy to make friends in virtual worlds today, but not all are doing so innocently. Beware anyone who asks for your personal details, as they may want to do more than just contact you.
* Only download titles from legitimate sellers. If you're downloading an illegal copy of a game, you aren't just breaking the law. You're risking getting malware on your machine, as crooks often disguise game files as malicious software.