Offhand, companies and enterprises being affected by attacks like DDoS against the online gaming industry may be far-fetched. But the gaming industry, being a billion-dollar business with a continuously growing competitive community, is naturally bound to garner attention from cybercriminals. A recent wire fraud case, for instance, allowed a group of hackers to mine $16 million worth of coins in the hugely popular FIFA series and sell them to buyers in Europe and China. And in our research, we found that the sale of such gaming currencies sends ripples of impact to fund cybercrime operations often targeting entities however unrelated to online gaming.
While some cyber attacks may appear to be only targeting a specific industry, threats being inherently borderless mean they can also serve as gateways to more serious cybercriminal efforts against other industries. After all, with the huge potential for revenue and the lack of digital currencies regulation thrown in the equation—what’s stopping cybercriminals from diversifying their attack surface to the online gaming industry for moneymaking schemes?
Figure 1. How gaming currency is being laundered to fund cybercriminal activities
The business model of hacking the games and maliciously acquiring in-game currencies allows cybercriminals to make a profit out of the games beyond the typical, run-of-the-mill stealing of information and login credentials from the players. The virtual currency system of the business also makes it particularly ideal for cybercriminals since it functions with cryptocurrency, making their illicit activities more untraceable.
Figure 2. A website on the Deep Web that offers cryptocurrency laundering services
A number of attacks that range from financial fraud to identity theft and denial of service attacks to spam campaigns (which can lead to ransomware infection) have been funded by such sales and have already affected organizations of all sizes. Known hacking groups like Armada Collective, Lizard Squad, and Team Poison have been seen to hack online games, which funded their wide-scale of cyber attacks against enterprises.
Attacking Enterprises as a Show of Power
Additionally, some companies may even find themselves in the crosshairs of cybercriminal groups that attack just to show their capabilities and gain publicity on hitting woefully unprepared targets. Even casual cybercriminals can pull off DDoS attacks as there are many freely available tools that they can use to facilitate multi-vector attacks.
The big stumbling block here is that while the monetary rewards cybercriminals reap are being used for their illegal activities, the trade of online gaming currencies itself is not, strictly speaking, criminal. As it is now, no law exists to regulate online gaming currencies.
Now, this means two things: One, the selling of such currency makes it more lucrative as a cybercriminal modus operandi; and two, enterprises should be aware of this threat and be responsible for equipping themselves and their users for security.
And from the looks of it, the trend of targeting the gaming industry will continue. According to the Q2 2016 report of cloud services provider Akamai, DDoS attacks have seen a 129% increase from last year, with the gaming industry taking majority of the documented DDoS attacks at 57% in its account. If gaming companies can’t keep their security tight and gamers themselves would continue to be heedless of such cybercriminal ploys, then the trade of online gaming currencies will persist and will affect not only the gaming industry but also a vast number of other victims.
Find more details on how online gaming currencies are impacting enterprises in our research paper “The Cybercriminal Roots of Selling Online Gaming Currency.”