Gaming should be a fun, safe way to relax. And usually, it is– but we know that virtual attacks and data collection are on the rise. 

A particular problem is a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack. This is when multiple computers are used to flood a target IP address with enough data that the network is overwhelmed. That means that, if a player targets you with a DDoS, your connection can drop at a crucial moment, ending your game. This has become so common that attackers can literally rent a botnet and carry out an attack without any specialized knowledge!

In addition to DDoS attacks, there is identity theft and malware to be wary of. Here are some of the most crucial ways to stay safe while gaming.

1. Don’t Reveal Personal Information

This may seem obvious, but it’s easy to slip when you begin making friends online. Personal information includes the basic things like your phone number and address, but you should also be wary of revealing your age, gender, and even interests. These can be used by hackers posing as someone your age, with similar interests, in order to build trust– and then scam you. 

Similarly, even if you think you can trust another player, avoid following links that other players send in-game. These can be part of a phishing scam.

2. Use an anti-malware program

While an antivirus program won’t stop determined attacks, this is still a crucial first line of defense. It will prevent casual IP detection, and can protect you from being caught up in a more general DDoS attack. This will also protect you from being infected by a Trojan that can turn you into a member of a botnet. 

Anti-malware can also protect you from spyware and viruses which might delete your data or leak personally identifiable information to hackers. This is especially crucial if you are downloading pirated or unofficial programs– more on that in a second.

3. Use a VPN

Using a VPN is the most effective way to protect yourself from a DDoS attack. A VPN hides your IP address by routing your connection through the provider’s network. That means that would-be attackers can only find you VPN’s IP address– yours is safe! 

Of course, in order to avoid latency and higher ping times, you need a VPN provider with experience connecting gamers. Here are a few we recommend, along with a guide on how to set up a VPN for your console.

4. Beware of cheat codes and programs

We’ve all been tempted to access cheat codes or shortcuts when we’re having difficulty getting past a certain point in a game. But beware– when you download a package of cheat codes, it can easily contain viruses or spyware. Hackers have even begun spreading game mods infected with cryptocurrency miners, and that would drastically slow down your connection speed.

5. Use original, not pirated games

It may seem like a good idea to get a pirated game and save money on purchasing an official copy, but unfortunately, that can cause all sorts of problems. 

With pirated games, you can’t update and patch to the latest version of a game. This can leave you open to breaches of security. You also have no support of upcoming updaes. And on top of that, you’re at risk of malware embedded in pirated game files. When you download a public torrent, it’s always possible that someone messed with the file before uploading it. In fact, in 2013, AVG found that 90% of pirated video games are infected with malware. It’s also worth noting that playing pirates games is an offense that can result in a ban from Xbox Live or PlayStation Network.