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No Child’s Play: Why Gamers’ Activities on the Dark Web Are Serious Business

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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 the business of online gaming shows no signs of slowing down, as technology continues to improve and the coronavirus outbreak continues to impact the role the internet plays 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 itself 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, both 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 that underground forums can provide as to gaming-related fraud and its perpetrators. And, given that the field of 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 we can 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 some of the key findings that came out of 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 world of gaming, 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 kind of cybercrime can have significant real-world consequences. H

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

  • Some threat actors sell cracked (pirated) games, giving prospective players a way 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 games’ terms of service.
  • Some individuals offer hacking tools on the dark web, helping other users to carry out their own 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 illegitimately claim freebies, depriving the game owners of some of the profits they have earned.
  • Some individuals sell cheats to online games via the dark web ‒ either instructions on how to cheat 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 personal details) or carrying out DDoS attacks.

In general, we often see that when a particular industry becomes more prominent or profitable, it also 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.

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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 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.

For a detailed look at the role underground forums play in facilitating gaming-related fraud, download our full threat report, Overview of Dark Web Threat Against the Gaming Industry.