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Hackers Distribute Malware by Targeting Apps Popular Among Children

Most criminals I have encountered in my life have a code of conduct consisting of things they consider morally wrong when conducting their illicit commerce. Consequently, they will not transgress those boundaries under any circumstances.

However, some cybercriminals have little to no boundaries at all, opting to target gaming apps known to be popular among children, such as Roblox and Minecraft. According to Kaspersky, these apps are rife with malicious files distributed by cybercriminals. Ultimately, Minecraft is among the most popular games targeted by attackers.

The gaming industry is predicted to exceed 3 billion players globally this year, generating a $200 billion gaming market according to the analytical research agency Newzoo. which is ever-increasing. Because of these mega-profits, money-hungry cybercriminals turn their attention to the industry, looking for vulnerable and gullible users to profit from.

Users From Most Popular Games Are Prime Targets

The same data was confirmed by Kaspersky research, which demonstrated that the most rampant malware forms found were affiliated with the top PC and mobile games. Kaspersky published the data on its Securelist website, collected from voluntary and anonymized reports from its customers.

Kaspersky explained how they identified the malicious files affiliated with these popular game titles, "We used the titles of the games as keywords and ran these against our KSN telemetry to determine the prevalence of malicious files and unwanted software related to these games, as well as the number of users attacked by these files," they said.

"Also, we tracked the number of fake cheat programs for the popular games listed above, and the number of miners that dramatically affect the performance of gamers' computers."

Minecraft, mentioned above, is a game that is extremely popular among kids and was targeted the most by threat actors, baiting users with a robust variety of malware at a whopping 23,239 malicious codes, which have affected 131,005 of its players.

Nevertheless, the number of malicious files decreased by 36 percent (36,336) from the previous year, reducing the number of affected users by nearly 30 percent (184,887). However, the number of files was down 36 percent (36,336) from the previous year, and users were affected by almost 30 percent (184,887).

As a parent to an avid Minecraft and Roblox player, the sheer number of instances my child informed me about weird solicited messages from other players in the tell-tale fashion of a common scam solicitation was almost a daily occurrence. Reporting suspicious and blatant scammer accounts doesn’t always yield the desired results.

Let’s take a look at the next most popular game titles for PC that threat actors are targeting to lure victims into downloading their malware. Second, to Minecraft, it’s none other than Roblox - also huge with children. Following these top two, are Need for Speed, Grand Theft Auto, and not surprisingly, Call of Duty. For mobile platforms, it’s Minecraft, Roblox, Grand Theft Auto, PUBG, and lastly FIFA.

An Array of Various Attacks Mainly Targetting Cracked Game Copies

According to Kaspersky, 88.56 percent of malware cases involved malicious

downloaders. Downloaders are a kind of backdoor designed to connect to the 3rd party servers controlled by the attacker, that downloads necessary components to be executed onto the victim's device.

They noted that this kind of unsolicited software might not necessarily be considered dangerous by virtue of simply being a downloader, but could be weaponized for loading other malicious content onto devices.

Downloaders aside, adware was the next largest attack method launched by cybercriminals (4.19 percent), which pops up unsolicited ads on devices, disrupting any activities by the user, and forcing them to interact with the pop-up. Following this, trojans (2.99 percent). Attackers employ a range of malware types, many of which masquerade as non-malicious.

Most of the trojans downloaded in this fashion amounted to 76.87 percent, which Kaspersky identified as password grabbers, including functions designed to capture credit card information (22.14 percent). Whereas, hijacking the gaming accounts themselves amounted to 0.99 percent of attacks.

What’s interesting to note, Kaspersky reported that most of these attacks were carried out due to gamers searching for cracked copies of these games. This stands out to me because this was my preferred method for spreading botnets over a decade ago when I operated as a black hat.

Back then, Halo was the hottest game on the market, which means cracked copies and trainers for modders were prime targets for hackers to infect or alter in some way. Since illicit copies of popular software sound better than paying out of pocket to those that are painfully desperate, my malware always found a home on an unsuspecting victim’s computer, giving me total access to everything.

Don’t be that person. Additionally, as parents it is prudent to educate our children by explaining what cybercriminals do, and how kids might be engaged by such individuals sending unsolicited links or instructions to download files or apps that will likely be malicious.

Security should never be an afterthought, left to the device’s manufacturer, or throwing caution to the wind while hiding behind the latest security update. While a device could have a security layer, as long as the human operator element exists, one way or another it’s going to be vulnerable.

An article by

Jesse McGraw

Edited by

Anne Caminer




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