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Fraud and theft in virtual worlds must be tackled, says EU body

Antony Savvas

The level of fraud and theft in virtual worlds is sky-rocketing and more should be done to protect participants, says an EU body.

EU agency ENISA (European Network and Information Security Agency) says the £1.2bn worth of virtual goods in virtual worlds - including Second Life and Warcraft - are a soft target for cybercriminals.

The ENISA report says there are one billion registered players of online games worldwide.

An ENISA report makes various recommendations to governments and game providers to help protect users of virtual worlds.

Online gaming fraud is an increasingly serious threat and the failure to recognise the importance of protecting real-money value locked up in this "grey-zone of the economy" has lead to a "year of online world fraud", says the report.

A survey in the report shows that 30% of users have recently lost some form of virtual property through fraud. In less than a year, more than 30,000 new malicious programs have been detected specifically targeting accounts and property in online games and virtual worlds.

Such malware is invariably aimed at the theft of virtual property accumulated in a user's account and its sale for real money.

"While annual real-money sales of virtual goods is estimated at nearly £1.2bn worldwide, users can do very little if their virtual property is stolen. They are a very soft target for cybercriminals," said report editor Giles Hogben.

The report was put together by a group of industry, academic and government experts.

The report makes various recommendations to tackle problems, including:

  • An industry-wide forum for service providers to share best-practice on security vulnerabilities
  • Clarification of virtual property rights for more adequate theft protection
  • A checklist of key technical issues for service providers/developers
  • Awareness-raising campaigns for users, including child-safety and privacy risks

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