Gamers putting themselves at risk by downloading pirate versions

Research shows 90 percent of game hacks are infected with malware

Thrifty gamers downloading hacks are putting themselves at risk with 90 percent of game hacks infected with malware according to the latest research from the labs team at AVG Technologies. See all game reviews

So if you've ever been tempted to download a hack for your favourite game to accelerate your progress, or to download a pirated copy of the latest title through a torrent or file-sharing site, watch out as you may be getting more than you bargained for.

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World of Warcraft, League of Legends, Runescape, World of Tanks and Minecraft are just five of the world's most popular computer games, played by a total of more than 330 million people worldwide and part of a multi-billion-dollar industry.

But that popularity also makes these games and those who play them prime targets for cybercriminals, as the AVG Viruslab Research Group discovered this month.

Multi-player online gaming can become expensive and it takes enormous time, effort and skill to do well in today's leading Massively Multiplayer Online games (MMOs).

When you consider the cost of buying a game, which can be anything from £5 to £40 and then the 'must have' accessories, the costs soon mount up. Unsurprisingly, not everyone wants to spend their cash or can afford to do so, which has led to pirated 'cracked' games, license key generators (keygens) and thousands of other game hacks such as patches, cheats and trainers to appear online, usually on unregulated torrent or file-sharing sites.

These may, at first glance, appear to be the easy option for the gamer seeking to get ahead, but in the majority of cases the bad guys are constantly producing hacks and cracks for the latest and biggest titles, and most contain small chunks of executable code designed to pry, steal and disrupt.

The AVG researchers in Brno analysed scores of such hacks and cracks found on metasearch services such as FilesTube and FileCrop, to discover that more than 90 per cent of them contained some form of malware.

Yuval Ben-Itzhak, AVG'S Chief Technology Officer comments "Even if just 0.1% of the gamers playing the top five gaming titles go looking for a hack - a highly conservative estimate - that means 330,000 people are potentially at risk of falling victim to game hack malware. Gamers really need to weigh up the risks as falling victim to hackers could lead to the loss of any legitimate, paid-for gaming assets, as well as sensitive personal data such as bank details and email or social media passwords. All of this begs the questions, is it worth the risk?"

In a quick test, AVG's threat team searched FileCrop for a Diablo 3 hack, one of the most popular 'swords and sorcery' MMOGs on the market. The FileCrop search result listed more than 40 hacks, all temptingly titled to encourage users looking for the greatest "in-game rewards and benefits". For the largest gaming titles, such as World of Warcraft and Minecraft, a similar FileCrop search reveals hundreds of hacks.

Left to its own devices this malicious code decrypts the saved website passwords, stored in the machine's web browser keypass, with any sensitive information found sent back to the attacker via email. A hack could also ultimately result in the loss of a game account altogether, as attackers can profit from the theft, by trading the accounts online in exchange for cash.

The registered user account could cost hundreds of dollars and hours of gameplay to replace, while in-game purchases, such as power-ups, weapons and equipment, may be lost or sold before the user has a chance to contact the game developer and reclaim their hacked account. And, as with all malware, there is the threat of other illegitimate activity - stealing bank account details, hacking email accounts or accessing social media accounts.

So how can you make sure you're game safe? The answers are exactly what you'd expect:

1) Don't download cracks, hacks, trainers or unofficial patches.2) DO download patches only from the official game provider's website.3) DO vary your login details, make sure you use different usernames and passwords for every game account - even for game forums.

How can you fix your computer if it gets infected?

If you think you might already have malware on your machine from an infected game hack, you should immediately:

1) Change your passwords across all your online services that use the same or similar passwords.2) Contact the game provider to recover access to your account.3) Run a scan of your PC using up-to-date security software

The solutions listed above should keep you safe online, but if the lure of penny pinching remains tempting, it is always worth asking if a temporary budget gain is worth the much greater potential financial risk?

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