Thursday, February 24th, 2011
Whether you’re running a mafia empire, nightclub, farm, city or zoo, you can count yourself one of the growing number of people playing what’s known as a social game. Social gaming is changing the way millions of people use the Internet by luring in those who would not normally consider themselves a “gamer”. This can be seen from the huge number of people playing a whole variety of games: Farmville has over 51 million players, Mafia Wars has 15 million, Zoo World 6 million and CityVille a whopping 96 million and the list goes on. These four games alone have the same ‘population’ as the UK, France and Spain combined (168 million people)1.

Free of the stigma of ‘hardcore’ games, social games tend to be browser-based, free-to-play games built into social networks such as Facebook. Although their topics vary dramatically, they all have a social premise — you play with and against your friends and family. This social aspect gives these easy-to-pick-up games a real multiplayer experience different for each and every person.

Lloyd Borrett, Security Evangelist for AVG (AU/NZ) Pty Ltd, says: “Social gaming is now so big that it’s estimated that they take up 10% of online time of the average Internet user. Facebook is no longer simply a social network for connecting friends but the world’s largest gaming platform — more than half of Facebook’s 500 million users are playing social games on a regular basis!”

Evidence that social gaming is now serious business was given when Disney bought leading social game developers Playdom in June last year for in excess of US$750 million.

Borrett continues, “Sadly, when there’s serious money to be made, nefarious guests are never far behind. The explosion of social gaming is a golden opportunity for cyber criminals to pull the wool over your eyes. Why would they do that? You don’t enter your credit card details into a free game do you? Perhaps not, but installing a fake game grants them access to your personal information; something which has obvious consequences.

“So here are a few tips for staying safe while growing your crops or running your zoo.”

Maker’s mark – Check who is behind the game you want to download to ensure it’s a legitimate title from a real company you can trust.

Be a cynic – Just because you receive a message saying that some of your friends are playing a certain game doesn’t guarantee its safety.

Faking it – If you’re in any doubt about the legitimacy of a game you’re installing, use fake details in the registration process. This isn’t a failsafe, but should help keep your real information private.

Double check – When you install the game, double check the options to see what exactly you’re granting permission for. Are you surrendering all your information? Are you allowing it to make wall posts on your behalf?

Background programs –- Be sure not to start logging into your online bank or other sensitive services while using an untrustworthy game; it could be logging your details.

Don’t cross-over to the dark side – Be very cautious of enticing offers of free or ‘exclusive’ in-game items (coins, chips, gifts, etc.); overblown claims of ultra-rare items, special access to exclusive ‘secret’ content; or even hacks, bots and cheat programs offering you an unfair gaming advantage. These offers can come from: tweets (beware of tiny urls), emails, fan pages, forum messages, or chat rooms. They are typical attempts by others to steal your account login name and password, or other personal information.

Stay up to date – Make sure that your anti-virus program is kept up to date at all times. This will give you the best possible protection in case you do come a cropper to some Internet baddies.

Borrett says, “Because social network games require players to have lots of friends and supporters to play the same game in order to attain higher scores, people tend to accept new ‘friends’ fairly easily. Hackers often create false profiles, complete with information and photos, to trick people into accepting them into their social network. Most people allow anyone who is part of their network to view all their recent activities, so you can see what a potential online security minefield this is.”

AVG (AU/NZ) has a comprehensive range of security tips on its web site at http://www.avg.com.au/resources/security-tips/. For video tips from AVG (AU/NZ), see http://www.youtube.com/user/avgaunz.

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1. Source: World Bank, World Development Indicators

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