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Online games have become a major target for fraud in recent years. A study from Kaspersky Labs, published today, dissects the techniques and targets used by hackers to make "easy money" by selling stolen login credentials of users or in-game items on the black market.

Online games and fraud: using games as bait by Sergey Golovanov, a virus analyst at Kaspersky, outlines the vulnerabilities within online games; methods used to steal confidential player data; ways of protecting this data.

According to Golovanov, three main methods are used by cybercrooks to swipe online game passwords: social engineering (phishing or bogus offers of bonus or tips in exchange for registering onto rogue systems), exploiting game server vulnerabilities, and using malicious programs to obtain passwords. The study includes statistics on the volume and provenance of Trojan programs for online games, and figures which show which online games are the most popular targets.

Virus writers at first used classic key loggers to steal passwords for online games, a tactic that can be traced back to 1997. Over time, malware attacks became more sophisticated. The first Trojan specifically designed to target online games, Lmir-a, harvested passwords to "Legend of Mir". This was the forerunner of a generation of Trojans targeting a wide range of online games.

The most recent Trojans typically incorporate a dynamic library written in Delphi. When they detect the launch of an online game, they intercept the password entered via the keyboard, send this data to the malicious user's email address, and then self-delete.

More than 90 per cent of all Trojans targeting online games are written in China, and 90 per cent of the passwords stolen by these malware agents belong to players on South Korean sites.

More than 40 per cent of all Trojans for online games target Lineage 2, with World of Warcraft (20 per cent) the second most popular target. Other online games coveted by hackers include Gamania, Tibia and Legend of Mir. Each accounts for about six per cent of password-stealing Trojans.

According to Golovanov, those making a living from other people's virtual property are "almost immune" from legal sanction. Game developers should work together with antivirus companies in tacking the problem. Users also need to apply common sense in protecting their online credentials, Golovanov adds. ®

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