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Online game cheats – a threat to the E-sports industry in 2021

Multi-player game cheats or hacks contribute to the increase in cybercrime in the gaming community. Also, the E-sports industry is experiencing increased hackers and cheaters.

Updated: September 24, 2021 By Ozair Malik

Gamer experiences Game Over on the computer game

Image source – freepik.com

Did you ever come across a player (hacker) with exceptional powers while playing Dota 2, Fortnite or, PUBG?

The E-sports industry revenue soon hit the $1 billion mark. This whopping revenue includes the share of pro-gamers that mint cash prizes in tournaments worldwide.

Players use cheats and hacks to enhance their gaming skills in this hyper-competitive industry with million-dollar prize pools. Thus, increasing their chance of winning by getting an unfair advantage over other players (illegally).

Consequently, illegal game cheat markets on the dark web have increased in recent years. Also, the people, players, and companies involved in the ecosystem are now highly vulnerable cybercrime targets.

Readout to discover how the increasing use of cheats or hacks poses a significant threat to the gaming community and several other major security risks to E-sports in general.

Game Cheats – the worst nightmare

Developing a game cheat or hack requires pro coding skills and knowledge. Because one must temper with the game's source code and underlying framework, he also needs to take care of antivirus programs and penetrate without being detected.

An advertisement for private cheat for the game Over Watch

Cheat developers are more likely to advance towards malware development.

Malware is also developed to exploit the source code of an application or program. Also, I believe game cheats are close to malware because they are meant to exploit the game vulnerabilities.

Often cheating and hacking are the steppingstone towards other cybercrimes, including malware development, selling credentials of stolen gaming accounts, game items, and VPNs.

People indulge more in this than advance towards black-hat hacking, financial frauds, scams, ransomware, etc.

In many cases, creating gaming cheats is a steppingstone for getting into malware development, since the knowledge and skills required to develop cheats translate easily to the development of malware.

Albert Zsigovits, a threat researcher at Sophos Labs

Aimbots and Wallhacks are the most popular cheats used by players. The prices of these hacks range between US$5 to $2000.

An underground forum post selling CS GO wallhack

An underground forum post selling Wallhacks and Aimbots

So, the next time you get killed by a single sniper shot from a mile away in PUBG, the shooter used an Aimbots with an increased damage rate and gun power.

Well, you can also level up your game by using cheats available on underground dark web forums. But I don’t recommend this in any way!

Many underground forums are multiplying and have special categories for E-sports related buying and selling of hacks, cheats, cracks, mods, etc.

This is a multi-million-dollar industry. Many of these websites sell a subscription model, and it ranges from $10 to $100. Some can cost over $500 for an elite cheat.

Santiago Pontiroli, a security researcher at Kaspersky Lab

Santiago started investigating malware-like cheats in video games after getting fed up with hackers in online matches.

Underground gray markets have made this very easy for even a newbie gamer to step into the world of cheating. They need to visit the forum, pay the price, and get the code with all the tutorials.

Hence, not all players are hackers, and 80% are script kiddies using a cheat bought from a forum.

The use of cheats or hacks is an awful nightmare for gamers and game developers. Because ethical players get frustrated by continuous defeat due to other players having boasted powers. Consequently, they leave the game, which causes significant financial loss to the developers.

Moreover, suppose a player loses a tournament due to hackers. In that case, it's also a setback because players invest their precious time, energy, and resources.

They have a lot at stake because many players are pursuing E-sports as a full-time career.

When you're playing a game, you get rewards. So, if you have a cheater playing, that gets you worked up. You end up quitting the game, you'll cancel your subscription, you'll stop buying the games, and you'll leave a bad review: this could damage the company's reputation. It could cost a lot of jobs.

Santiago Pontiroli, a security researcher at Kaspersky Lab

Cheating and game modification are reported to be increasing worldwide.

A survey by Irdeto, a service for platform security, found that about a third of gamers admitted using cheats for improving chances online.

The motivation behind this is usually dissatisfaction, greed, and frenzy emotions.

The ultimate counter strategy for cheaters

Although the industry and stakeholders have deployed various security defenses, including an anti-cheat system, many organizations are run bug bounty programs.

An anti-cheat system checks the suspicious players by performing a whole memory scan, process analysis, code inspection, etc. They ban the player from the platform even if they find a web search with “cheat”.

In January 2019, Valve Corporation, developer of Dota 2, CS GO, and Steam, banned more than 1 million accounts with the help of the Valve Anti-Cheat (VAC) system.

Valve Anti-Cheat (VAC) system

Similarly, the Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS: GO) player is known as “Forsaken” was banned for five years after being caught using an Aimbots during the eXTREMESLAND ZOWIE Asia tournament in 2018.

The player tried to disguise the program by using word.exe as a filename.

The picture is showing files found on player “Forsaken’s” PC during investigation

However, companies and organizers need to do more than this because cheating and cyber-attacks are getting uncontrolled.

Companies need to level up their bug bounty programs and increase rewards to encourage those cheat developers to turn to them. A cheat developer's primary aim is the monetary benefit. If he sees more reward in bounty, I believe he would switch to bounties and utilize his skills ethically.

Also, the collaboration between Cyber Security Industry and the E-sports industry is the need of the hour. Both parties must work with each other to research and develop security solutions specific to the game industry.

Alongside, Companies offering Anti-Cheat systems also need to develop more sophisticated products and tools. Continuous update in the existing tools based on solid research and current trends is also essential.

Tournament organizers need to ensure adequate security defenses against DDOS attacks are available and servers are hardened. They must conduct security audits from neutral entities.

Also, Brands and sponsors should demand audit reports from organizers because a slight compromise can damage the brand's reputation and result in great loss for all stakeholders.

Most importantly, players need to pay more attention to their online security.

Besides that, they must demand enhanced protection from the streaming platforms and game developers. They need to make sure that the game servers are secure enough because they contain their profile data.

A slight leak can put their money, credibility and, career at risk.

Alongside, here are some tips for players:

  • Frequently change account passwords
  • Use Multi-Factor Authentication
  • Log in through official gaming apps and services
  • Avoid 3rd party services and apps
  • Do not leak your credentials to a scammer
  • Never share authenticator code

The industry projected to be worth $200 billion in 2023 is at a high risk of cyber-attacks. Therefore, it is high time that all stakeholders must counter the threats.

Conclusion

Looking at the current rising industry trends, the influx of huge investments, and growing people's interest, I foresee that cyber criminals will continue targeting the E-sports industry with more force.

The gaming community and the e-sports industry are under severe threat because e-sports are predicted to be part of the Olympics soon. Therefore, politically motivated and government-sponsored cyber-attacks will be a major threat.

Moreover, game cheats or hacks are not the only threat to the community. Also, it:

  • Hardware hacks
  • Match-fixing
  • Gambling
  • Social engineering attacks
  • DoS or DDoS
  • Ransomware
  • Credentials stealing
  • Accounts hacking

The above list of threats is only the tip of the iceberg, and there is a lot more to come soon. I will cover these threats and their countermeasures in some other articles.

If you have been a victim of any hack or experienced cheaters while playing DOTA 2, COD, Fortnite, PUBG, GTA V, etc.

Please let me know below in the comments about your experience and what did you do next? Did you leave the game? Reported it to the support? Or you also started cheating?

Tags: 
Threats
Author
Ozair Malik
A passionate Cyber Security researcher and writer with a keen interest in Digital Forensics. A community worker running a insta blog to raise cybersecurity awareness among laymen.

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