Are you worried about your security while playing online games? You should be: Between April 17 and April 19, hackers stole account information from users on Sony Corp.’s 77 million member-strong Playstation Network. Sony turned off the PSN in response, but said that the information stolen or compromised likely included the following: name, address, country, email address, birthdate, password/login, purchase history and billing address, and credit card information (the card number and expiration date).
The company waited a full two days to address the situation, preventing users from taking proactive steps to combat any potential damage to their online account. So, what can you do to protect yourself while playing online games, or at least curb any surreptitious damage? Here are some tips:
Find a Kid-Friendly Online Game
If your child is relatively young and has yet to succumb to the allure of interactive console gaming, then stick with online games that don’t require the input of personal data or allow external live-chatting. Wired Safety has listed the following sites as being “kid-friendly”: AOLKidsOnly, Disney.com, ABC Kids, Toon Disney, and Disney Channel sites, NeoPets.com, Nick.com, and PBS.com, and Yahooligans.com.
Use a Voice Mask For Live-Chatting
If you want to use “live chatting” while playing multiplayer games (which isn’t at all recommended for younger children) consider using a voice mask. Familiar with that odd, robotic sound that comes out when witness protection program participants are being interviewed on TV? Same concept. Approximate Age and gender can probably be determined just from your voice. XBox Live has included voice masking with its package, though you can purchase the software separately, as well.
Don’t Give Out Your Information, If You Can Help It
Choose a gamertag or personal handle that doesn’t reveal information. Don’t use a real-life picture of yourself for your avatar. Also, don’t tell people where you are and when you’ll be out via chat or message. Be careful with online message exchanges: Remember not to accept “cheats” from other players that claim to help you beat a game–they could really be (and often are) malware in disguise. Unfortunately, if you participate in a globally connected network like the Playstation Network, you have little choice but to enter the information and just be vigilant to any changes on your credit card. If your account is hacked, you should immediately do the following: change your password, change your secret answers to request a new password, and check your other online accounts for suspicious activity.
Beware of Scams
Games on social networking sites can pose considerable risk because they usually require access to your profile to work (i.e., Facebook). Additionally, certain games allow you buy “in-game benefits” by signing up for advertised services, but can often end up scamming you. As Michael Arrington from TechCrunch writes, the games try to get you to pay cash to “level up” and have a better in-game experience, “…But for users who won’t pay cash, a wide variety of “offers” are available where they can get in-game currency in exchange for lead gen-type offers. Most of these offers are bad for consumers because it confusingly gets them to pay far more for in-game currency than if they just paid cash (there are notable exceptions, but the scammy stuff tends to crowd out the legitimate offers). And it’s also bad for legitimate advertisers.” And though sites like Facebook and MySpace have rules prohibiting some scams, the rules are rarely enforced by the sites. So be careful! More scams are detailed here: http://techcrunch.com/2009/10/31/scamville-the-social-gaming-ecosystem-of-hell
Use Parental Controls Where Necessary
On XBox Live, Playstation 3, and Wii, you should have the option to mute other players’ microphones. Familiarize yourself with the Entertainment Software Rating Board rating system for content you deem acceptable for your children (you can look at it here). On the Playstation, Playstation Portable, Wii, and Microsoft XBox 360, there are password-protected parental controls that allow you to set restrictions on web surfing and e-mail messages; you can also restrict the types of games your child is allowed to play.
If you feel that a fellow player is violating a code of conduct, there is usually a mechanism in place to report offenders. On the XBox, you can file a complaint and control communications by selecting the offending player’s avatar and clicking “file complaint.” On Sony Playstation 3, you can fill out a complaint form on the website here. (Make sure you have a record of the player’s offenses before you fill out the form.) You can also block players from messaging you and mute players in the chat.