Trying to keep your child safe on the Internet, is every parent’s nightmare isn’t it?

Young people are spending more and more time online on social media and on gaming sites and it is vital that we become more aware of the many issues that can affect them online.

During online gaming month, we’ll look at the increased risks that young people face when they play games online:

  • We will look at the rise in online gaming – particularly amongst teenagers
  • We will also explore the shift to social interaction which has come on the back of online gaming and the predictions that video game data breaches are going to be a big problem in 2019
  • We will also look at account takeovers and how it can affect your child and we will explore social engineering and how it is used to target children online
  • Lastly, we will look into the risks and solution in ransomware and how it can affect your children online

We will give you tips to help keep your child safe and you can gain access to our Facebook Group – where you will be able to chat to other mums and get advice and answers about keeping your child safe online.

Let’s have a look first about the rise in online gambling amongst teenagers…

More and more teenagers are engaging in online gaming

The global game’s audience was estimated to be between 2.2 and 2.6 billion people in 2018 and the global software market is expected to grow to approx $180.1 billion by the end of 2021.

It is a huge market and it is one that our children are tapping into more and more.

According to research by UCL Institute of Education in 2018, teenagers are much more likely to be spending time on social media and gaming after school than doing things like homework or non-sedentary activities:

  • The study gathered data from approximately 3,500 teenagers in the UK and around half of the teens said that they spent time online every weekday
  • Girls spent more time online in general than boys (61% for girls and 39% for boys)
  • One in ten teens spent more than 3 hours a day online, but the average time was 1 hour 21 minutes every day
  • Online gaming was more popular than social media amongst boys with 48% spending time on video games
  • Incredibly, 12% of the boys reported spending more than 5 hours a day on gaming!

An analysis published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) in 2018 compared the lives of 18 year olds in Britain with those of teens of the same age in 2000 and found that on average they spent approximately half an hour less every day meeting friends, going out and talking to family, or chatting on the phone.

This gap has been filled by playing games online!

The anonymity of the online gaming world

The online gaming world is one where young people can be largely anonymous and can stop worrying about not being popular. They can make friends and receive praise for their online skills – is it any wonder that some kids retreat online to feel better about themselves?

Whereas many video games allow your child to play with friends they know in person, other games need your child to create an avatar or fictional version of themselves.

This is of course considered to be part of the fun of gaming…

However, this anonymity can allow users to gang up on other players. If someone is not doing very well in the game, for example, other kids may make negative remarks that can lead to online bullying – cyberbullying.

Some anonymous users use games to harass strangers or to get their personal information, like usernames and passwords. Vulnerable, socially inept or naïve young people can become victims of cybercriminals and hackers without realising that they have been targeted.

The shift towards more ‘social interaction’ than just ‘gaming’!

Many online games can be played by your child fairly independently, but the lure of social interaction (particularly for kids who are shy or have problems making friends) is a strong motive for your child to form lasting social relationships with other gamers.

Online gaming allows your child to be part of an online community – a social network – where members share an interest in the game and interaction is encouraged!

The problem for your child being part of an online gaming community is that traditional means of identifying yourself such as age or gender are often seen to be insignificant and a 14-year-old schoolboy a, 45-year-old housewife and a 20-year-old lorry driver can all be part of the same online community – all playing the same games.

There is an inherent danger that your child may be interacting with someone who has intentions towards your child other than playing the game.

Hackers will increasingly target young users of video games in 2019 according to Experian

 “We are not trying to imply all gamers are hackers, but they do live in an anonymous environment, have good computer skills, and are in an industry with billions in revenue.” – Michael Bruemmer, Vice President of Data Breach Resolution at Experian.

It’s the nature of online gaming that gamers will play with or against people they don’t know. This presents an increasingly important security threat to the online gaming industry.

Experian the credit and identity theft protection firm has predicted that video game data breaches will be a major issue in 2019. Their report states that cybercriminals can “easily pose as a gamer, build trust within a particular game or community, and gain access to privileged inside information.

This includes obtaining information such as names, numbers, and addresses and can even include passwords and credit card details.

The report also said that within the games, hackers can also steal tokens and weapons that are worth real money.

The gaming industry is growing fast and is becoming more lucrative and there has been a move towards selling ‘in-game assets’. The popular game Fortnite (which has been worrying parents all over the world with its addictive format) is one example where the majority of its revenue in 2018 came from the selling of in-game add-ons!

Naturally, young gamers are especially at risk because they don’t always understand the games’ security practices etc.

In 2018, hackers persuaded children playing Fortnite to provide their parents’ bank details through the use of a phishing scam.

The theft of data is not the only problem identified by the report, however, because female gamers in particular “… have long been harassed and threatened.”  Experian said the situation would get worse as more people entered the unregulated gaming world.

What is hacking?

Hacking is an attempt to exploit a computer system or a private network inside a computer. Quite simply hacking is gaining unauthorised access to or control over a computer network security system for some illicit purpose.

An example of hacking: Using a password-cracking algorithm to gain access to a system.

An example of a successful hack

 In 2014, the Internet giant Yahoo experienced the theft of the personal data of 5oo million Yahoo accounts. The hack was one of the largest on record and although no financial information was stolen, passwords and identity details were taken.

Three online gaming hacking techniques you and your child could fall victim to

 1) Social Engineering

Social engineering is the art of manipulating people into giving up confidential information. Security is all about knowing who to trust on the other end of the device. In today’s digital environment, having a natural instinct to trust people is a high-risk fault and can leave yourself and your child vulnerable to an outsider gaining your passwords, banking information, API, Address and many more down to your health records.

Children are victims of social engineering every day around the globe. Why not start by teaching your child about the implications of gaming online with complete strangers? In today’s digital environment, criminals start at a young age, therefore don’t assume that because the person your child is gaming alongside is the same age as your child they meant to be trusted, as this is not the case. Children can be just as curious if not more.

2) Account Takeover

Account take over is a major concern and can leave anyone vulnerable. That includes children. Children are victims to account takeover as the younger the child, the easier it is for a criminal to gain their information. and take over their identity.

Hackers might start sending messages to your child asking for personal information and by piecing together data from games etc. they might be able to establish an account in your child’s name or gain access to accounts that already exist. Always be careful which apps you are downloading. Some apps that appear legitimate are anything but and if downloaded can introduce malware onto your device. Research the game developers and make sure it is safe before downloading for your child to play.

3) Ransomware

Ransomware is a malicious form of gaining an individuals information and blackmailing the individual to pay out a lump sum of money to receive their personal data back. However, that data is never promised and it is highly unlikely you will receive that information back.

Whilst playing an online game a child might need real money to buy a virtual item or buy some credit for their characters. These games need a credit card to sign in with and start playing. The card is automatically charged when the child buys something. Never give out your card number for these ‘freemium games’ and check your credit card statements regularly.

Always be careful which apps you are downloading. Some apps that appear legitimate are anything but and if downloaded can introduce malware onto your device. Research the game developers and make sure it is safe before downloading for your child to play.


Next time…

Over the next few weeks, we will be exploring in more detail the techniques used by hackers to exploit your children as they play games online.

We will look at the following topics in more detail:

– What account takeover is, how and why it happens, and its relevance to the gaming industry

– What social engineering is in more detail and explains what it is, how it is used, and why it is so popular in the gaming world

– The risks and solutions children face with child identity theft and ransomware

In the meantime, why now sign up to our  Newsletter to get useful tips and stories direct to your inbox

Also, why don’t you pop over to our  Facebook Page for more information on cybersecurity and to chat to other mums with similar concerns about the safety of children online.