Video gaming has revolutionized interactive media and has become the pinnacle of youth engagement. With a vast arsenal of devices at the disposal of youth. More than ever, they are engrossed in the digital world, opening a significant avenue for developers, publishers, and corporate juggernauts to capitalize on this raging craze. Recent events signify that the e-gaming industry—publishers, developers, esports teams and leagues, and the financial stratagems behind them—are prominent targets for cyberthreats, theft, and other cyber hostilities.

The recent case of Axie Infinity depicts the brutality of cyberattacks plaguing the gaming industry. That has caused the $540 million hack of a popular online game called Axie Infinity. The Lazarus Group initiated the attack, which is reported to be associated with the North Korean government. The recent reports by The Wall Street Journal, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control suggested that the infamous Lazarus Group owned the “cryptocurrency address used in the hack.”

Another reputed video game developer and publisher Electronic Arts experienced a cyberattack reportedly leading to the exfiltration of three-fourths of a terabyte worth of data. The exfiltrated data reportedly includes the source code of the uber-popular video game FIFA 21, including software development kits and game engines.

Recent News reports pointed out that threat actors could access the system through Slack communication channels, stolen authentication cookies, and spear-phishing attacks conquering multi-factor authentication tokens. Simultaneously, many recent reports have highlighted cases of hidden malware on gaming platforms, generally in the form of user profile images such as STEAMHIDE exploiting steam accounts.

The evolution of interactive media has also seen a new trend of E-Sports as a prominent business generating huge capital and data. The e-sports phenomenon has been featured on OTT Platforms like Netflix in the Documentary ‘7 Days Out’ showcasing the League of Legends Tournament. Its increasing popularity has prompted the Olympics committee to consider Esports an official sport for upcoming games. The olympic council of Asia (OCA) has recently announced the inclusion of 8 video games under its newly launched esports category. The prominent titles like FIFA, PUBG and DOTA 2 will be played under this category. The Robot Masters and VR sports will be played at demonstration events this year.

The amalgamation of threat actors lurking in the video game industry and the rise of the esports phenomenon indicates the importance of cyber resilience and strengthening of cyberinfrastructure in the video game industry. The risk of cyber hostilities is omnipresent in this industry, from an individual’s gaming right to the main servers of online games; hence the need to have robust cyber defense mechanisms is more significant than ever.
The following are a few areas that need serious attention.

Secure Subscriber account information: the majority of video games today, ranging from web-based platformers and MMORPGs to real-time strategy and even sports games and everything in between, has a component of DLC (Downloadable Content) or an online play feature. These features require collecting personal information about the account users/players holding significant market value to game developers and threat actors, such as geolocation, payment details, crypto addresses, etc. The threat actors might try to steal this information/ data by launching phishing and other social engineering attacks.

Video games as a decoy to deploy malicious codes: the video game has become a popular method to sneak malicious code into the healthy system. The malicious code can easily be used to access non-game-related data on devices. Video games running computers and smartphones are perfect vectors for code injection. Games available on dedicated platforms or devices may serve as active targets. Attackers might attempt to infect the system with botnet code to launch attacks, or the malware could open a back door into a secured network by executing in the firewall and modem on a home network and dispatching payloads to other devices on the local network, including smartphones and computers, without the added defenses of execution outside of the local network. The malicious code is also injected into our smartphones via doctored APK files available to download for free on suspicious websites.

Vulnerabilities in league Esports play: just like any sport or game, the success of a franchise lies in the fairness and honesty of the playing field. With the emergence of Esports, the probability of a team gaining access to source code or engine by unfair means could give the cheating team an edge over the competition as they might develop tactics to exploit logic errors in the game. Match-fixing takes advantage of the exploitation of vulnerabilities in `gambling discovered through cyber-attacks which severely impacts the growth of esports. To counter these exploits, strong Anti-doping programs need to be devised.
Malware attacks on High Profile esports events: the probability of ransomware attacks on big esports events is more significant than ever; with millions of dollars at stake, any cyberattack can easily disrupt the whole event causing the league to pay the ransom to continue the event. Esports still hasn’t achieved the status of major sports like football or cricket with national teams that may prevent nation-state-affiliated threat actors from invading.

The flourishing gaming industry and esports serve attractive targets to threat actors for many reasons. The mainstay participants must address cybersecurity issues seriously. Each must ensure an active and effective cybersecurity and compliance program to mitigate potential vulnerabilities and associated risks. Effective capacity building and sharing of information on a real time basis is crucial to ensure cyber resilience in the video game industry.

Author – Shrey Madaan, Research Associate, CyberPeace Foundation

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