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Credential theft targeting hardcore gamers has hit an all-time high as scams, illicit markets and account takeovers have become a booming business.

The driving force behind the uptick in gaming-related crime is a sudden spike in usage of online games, spurred by the coronavirus pandemic and social-distancing lockdowns, according to researchers.

A recent survey found that 55 percent of frequent online game players said their accounts had been compromised at some point, according to a study by Akamai and DreamHack.

“Criminals are launching relentless waves of attacks against games and players alike in order to compromise accounts, steal and profit from personal information and in-game assets, and gain competitive advantages,” said Steve Ragan, Akamai security researcher who authored the State of the Internet / Security report, released Wednesday.

According to the report, companies experienced 10.6 billion web application attacks between July 2018 and June 2020, more than 152 million of which were directed toward the gaming industry.

Impacted are not just console platform leaders such as Microsoft Xbox Live and Sony PlayStation Network, but also PC gaming platforms like Valve’s Steam, and mobile games from firms like Epic Games and its wildly popular Fortnite.

Stolen credentials are used by criminals to perpetrate a number of crimes. One popular cottage industry, easily discovered via a search for “boosting and ranking” services, illustrates how widespread the problem is, Ragan pointed out. He said these services often use dozens of hijacked accounts that can be programmed to repeatedly lose against one opponent, who is paying a third-party service to have their game ranking artificially jacked up to elite status.

More common, Akamai said, is attackers using stolen credentials to log in to a game account and simply steal a user’s profile information, financial data and whatever valuable virtual merchandise and currency they can find. Or, criminals might use a victim’s virtual currency to buy in-game merchandise and upgrades such as rare skins, special weapons and unique tools — and then steal them.
 
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