Gaming is booming. That’s catnip for cybercriminals.

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Millions of people escaped the drudgery of the COVID-19 pandemic’s first year by turning to video games, where they could cast spells, kill zombies and compete as their favorite athletes.

These virtual worlds also lured a different kind of enthusiast — the kind who sought to steal people’s personal information and real-world dollars.

In recent months, cybersecurity firms have warned that cybercrime in gaming has increased substantially since the start of the pandemic, and that the vulnerabilities — for game studios as well as players — are far from being vanquished.

“When you add more users or devices or applications to a user pool, you’re creating a larger attack surface,” said Tony Lauro, director of security technology and strategy at Akamai Technologies, a content delivery company that hosts large swaths of the internet. “In general, that is what is driving this massive increase over time.”

An Akamai report published in August said web application attacks, which exploit vulnerabilities in online programs like mobile games, were up 167% from May 2021 to April 2022 compared with the same period the year before. And a report last month from Russian cybersecurity company Kaspersky Lab found a 13% increase in malicious software attacks on games in the first half of 2022 compared with the first half of 2021.

The range of attacks and targets in gaming is enormous. Gaming companies can lose huge batches of data, and their games can be taken offline temporarily. Individual players can lose game progress, money and sensitive personal data.

Jessica Geoffroy, 29, was in some ways lucky that guilt was the main penalty she faced after she was hacked in December.

She realized something was wrong after she received a flurry of phone notifications from friends asking why she was still sending messages on Steam, a popular gaming platform, after she had gone to bed.

When Geoffroy found that she couldn’t log in to her Steam account, she knew she had been hacked.

“My heart was racing,” she said. “I thought, ‘Oh, God, what if they get my bank account information? What if they hack my friends and get their bank account information?’ — not knowing how far this is going to go.”

Fortunately, Geoffroy was able to reset her password that night. Nothing appeared to have been stolen, she said, but she felt “horrible” that the hacker had sent messages to her friends with the same compromised link that she had mindlessly clicked on — which another friend originally sent to her. That friend’s account disappeared after the link was sent, and she has not been able to get in contact with that person.

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