Today, children as young as 5 years old play online games, now that they are introduced to tech devices so early in their lives. How old were you when you first played one? I think I was 15.
As fun as it is for the little ones, there are a lot of risks involved. Even much of the older audience is not knowledgeable about these. So as a parent or older sibling or cousin, the best you can do is know the risks and help minimize the consequences.
What is online gaming?
Online games mostly refer to role-playing games (RPG) or other video games that cannot run without a computer network. They are now played on a variety of devices – gaming consoles, laptops, smartphones, and even tablets. Although many games can be played on just any device, the best gaming tablets and phones are often designed with gamers in mind.
The platform is growing every day. There is also a very popular category of MMORPG or Massive Multi-player Online Role-Playing Games, where gamers communicate through chat rooms. This is the online version of ‘talking to strangers’ that your mother always warned you about.
Can it be dangerous?
There is no physical danger. At least not directly. But yes, online games can be dangerous. Even though parents are more concerned about what their kids might see on the internet, they are more at risk of jeapordising their privacy. Online gaming and various other online activities pose multiple security hazards. It can range from misuse or theft of personal information, identity theft, device hacking to cyber bullying, and even threats.
How to handle such issues
Unfortunately, even long-time gamers are not aware of how their security is at risk. Here are some of the most common issues you might face and how you can minimize the risks.
Several different types of malware can enter your devices through a channel connected to the internet, not just games. Malware can affect your device – install unwanted programs, log your data, and even get access to offline files – and do some serious damage. For online games, if you tend to install cheats or mods, the risk is much higher. You cannot be certain of its authenticity while downloading or installing a file.
How can you be safe?
The best way to prevent this is to get an antivirus or anti-malware program installed and make sure that it’s running every time you connect to the game. We highly recommend that you avoid buying a free program since they do more harm than good. For PCs and laptops, including any other Windows device, you should make sure Windows Firewall is running.
The antivirus can help detect and protect your device and information during any online activity. You should regularly scan your device or schedule an automatic scan every few days.
When you enter any personal information on a website, you expose it to the enormous world of the internet. The risk remains the same no matter what device you use. Unless you are a hacker or part of a secret service, you couldn’t possibly know where the information will end up.
In multi-player games, chat rooms are very popular and often fun to use. But this is where there is a high risk. Even if you are not voluntarily giving out information, there are often lucrative links that children click on. These links can be risky and end up stealing personal information.
How can you be safe?
Refrain from giving out your personal information to strangers. Isn’t that obvious? In chat rooms, avoid mentioning any sensitive information. You know how RPGs require you to create a character? Stay in that character.
However, the safest method is to get a VPN (virtual private network). VPNs mask your location and encrypt your other data. These features make sure that the information you disclose, for example, to register an account or start a game, remains hidden from third parties. This means the data does not go outside the site you’re using.
However, if you voluntarily tell someone where you live or who you are, a VPN can’t save you.
Some role-playing games request access to audio, video, and storage. Some won’t work without the access. In most cases, you probably won’t even remember what permissions you allowed. Webcams and microphones are access channels hackers can use. Hackers can record audio and video without your knowledge and misuse it. The recordings can be used to threaten or manipulate kids and even extort money.
How can you be safe?
Now that webcams are not separate devices and built into laptops and phones, you cannot just unplug it. So the best solution is a combination of multiple safety measures you can take. Make sure your default webcam permission setting is “always ask”. If the webcam light turns on spontaneously at odd times, cover it with dark tape.
To make sure your webcam is not hacked, make sure your security settings are uniform. If hackers get access to your device, they can remotely change your security settings, among other things. Regularly check your webcam files and see if you find anything out of the ordinary. Use an antivirus or antimalware program to scan for any suspicious files or apps. Uninstall any unwanted apps and delete suspicious files immediately.
However cautious you may be, beware of scams. You will come across both free and paid games online. But as long as you know how to tell the difference, it’s fine. Some only appear for free. They allow you to play for free, but have too many ads or restrict you from using some of the game’s options.
These games tend to take your credit card information and make you pay to remove the ads. You could do that willingly, but once they have your billing information, they can charge you for anything. They often have hidden purchases within the game that you might be unaware of. This trick is also used by MMOGs where you pay to play.
How can you be safe?
Don’t give out your banking or credit card information unless you know you can rely on the site. Get advice from a friend or acquaintance who has played the game already or search for user reviews on the internet. Do not save your credit card information on the browser or device, even if it is a personal device.
If you look up cyber crimes and other risks on the internet, it’s rather worrying. This does not mean you are better off staying offline. Let’s be honest, you cannot be completely safe anywhere. But do stay alert and make sure to advise any children or young people who might not be aware of the risks.
Read up as much as you can and be cautious. Double-check anything that looks fishy. Question anything and Google everything. Sometimes you do need to read the Terms and Conditions.