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Minecraft: Newest choice for malware attacks

Spend enough time online, and you will probably run into stories about the horrors of malware. They’re usually about hackers getting into someone’s social accounts, but did you know that it can happen in games too?

Most people associate malware with the casual side of the Internet, like social media and shopping. However, you may be horrified to know that not even popular games like Minecraft are safe from cybercriminals. If you’re not careful, downloading a texture mod infected with ransomware could cause issues on your computer, or you could suffer serious financial losses.

Researchers in cybersecurity found that many cybercriminals heavily abuse Minecraft to lure gullible gamers into installing malware. According to Kaspersky, Minecraft accounted for about 25% of all cybercrime cases associated with game brands. The runners-up included FIFA, Far Cry, and Call of Duty at roughly 10% each.

Other popular games that have had a substantial number of cyberattacks include Grand Theft Auto, Valorant, PUBG, and Roblox.

State of online games

To say the gaming industry is one of the most profitable business sectors in the world is an understatement. The gaming industry has effectively made itself a powerhouse among other industry giants

According to Techjury, over three billion people play games, and the market globally is on track to reach $256.97 billion by 2025. Sony, one of the biggest names in the gaming industry and the creator of the PlayStation, was valued at $97.55 billion in September 2022. In the same year, the global audience for eSports games like League of Legends grew to over half a billion.

The recent boom in gaming is arguably a result of the pandemic. Since then, thousands of people have taken up online gaming as a means of escaping the depressing reality that scourged the globe.

Along with the sudden surge in player base numbers, cybercriminal activity also increased. As the gaming industry grew in its online presence, hackers found new ways to exploit people within popular games. 

Yeti posing with computer playing Minecraft

What is Minecraft?

Minecraft is a sandbox game created by Markus “Notch” Persson using the Java language and developed by Mojang Studios. After numerous initial test versions, the game made its first public appearance in May 2009. With Notch stepping down, Jens “Jeb” Bergensten took over development, and the game’s full version was released in November 2011.

Since then, Minecraft was ported into several other platforms outside of the Windows, Apple, and Linux PC Versions, including:

  • The Xbox 360 on May 9, 2012
  • The PlayStation 3 on December 17, 2013
  • The Xbox One on September 5, 2014
  • The PlayStation 4 on September 5, 2014
  • The PlayStation Vita on October 14, 2014
  • The Wii U on December 17, 2015
  • The Nintendo Switch on May 11, 2017
  • The Nintendo 3DS on September 13, 2017

Minecraft is one of the best-selling games of all time. As of 2021, it sold over 238 million copies, with the number of users hitting almost 140 million on a monthly basis.

Minecraft is a sandbox masterpiece with intentionally blocky graphics as part of its charm. Players explore randomly generated 3D worlds with nearly limitless terrain.

The game’s functionality enables creative ways to play, like extracting in-game raw materials, crafting items and tools, and building structures. Players may also fight hostile creatures and even play co-op or PvP mode with other players in the same world, depending on the game mode of their choice.

Minecraft allows a wide variety of user-created content in the game. These include servers, texture packs, custom maps, skins, and modifications that add new possibilities and game mechanics.

At face value, the game promotes creative thinking and socializing with others without the toxicity prevalent in other online games. However, the emphasis on user-generated content introduces vulnerabilities that hackers can exploit.

Minecraft takes the malware crown

From July 2021 to June 2022, popular game titles were subjected to cyberattacks with the aim of distributing files containing malicious software and malware, such as trojans. The total number of malicious files distributed to unsuspecting players was 91,984. Meanwhile, the total number of users running into these threats globally was about 384,224.

By 2021, Minecraft was one of the most-played video games worldwide for over a decade. Unfortunately, due to its popularity, it is also the bait of choice for cybercrime. Within the same period, cybercriminals distributed 23,239 files that affected 131,005 users using the Minecraft name as a lure.

One incident involved the infection of approximately 50,000 accounts with Minecraft malware designed to wipe hard drives, backup data, and system programs. The Powershell script piggybacked on Minecraft skin mods using the PNG format. The code was not particularly impressive and was probably not created by professional cybercriminals. The real problem the malware incident uncovered was how easy it was to upload the infected skins to the official Minecraft website.

Another sandbox game, Roblox, followed suit with 8,903 unwanted and malicious files distributed and 38,838 affected players. 

Even if you avoided these sandbox games, other genres are not entirely safe either. Other game titles hackers use as bait to lure unsuspecting players include Call of Duty, FIFA, and Far Cry. Another significant number of users found threats during searches for Need for Speed and Grand Theft Auto content.

illustration of malware

What is malware?

Malware is an amalgamation or short word for malicious software. It refers to any software intentionally developed by cybercriminals or hackers to intrude on computer systems. Their purposes can vary from data theft to damage or complete destruction of computers or computer systems.

The most common malware forms include worms, Trojan horse viruses, adware, spyware, and the infamous ransomware.

Viruses

Viruses are malicious software contained or attached in a file or document and often require an executable file to activate. Once activated, a virus can spread through computer systems, files, or network router hard drives. A virus spreads through self-replication by modifying computer software and inserting its own code into those programs.

Computer viruses always require a host or some other way to activate them; otherwise, they remain dormant and harmless. The most common ways to activate a computer virus include the following:

  • Visiting infected websites
  • Downloading malicious applications
  • Opening malicious email attachments
  • Plugging in an infected removable storage device like an external hard disk or USB
  • Clicking on a scam link
  • Accessing malicious files or documents
  • Viewing infected ads
  • Running malicious software

Some cybercriminals are masters at hiding the viruses they create. Typically, these hackers conceal their viruses in socially shareable files like videos, music, pictures, and even greeting cards. With social media already part of the average person’s daily life, people will inevitably run into infected files at some time or other.

Worms

Worms are malware that replicates and spreads quickly into any device or computer within the same network. Compared to viruses, worms are a more independent form of malware. That’s because they don’t require human actions to activate, replicate, modify software, or spread. Worms can infect a computer by downloading files or connecting to an infected network. 

What makes worms so dangerous is the fact you don’t even need to execute a file to infect your device. Files that contain a worm or any connection to an infected network are enough for a worm to spread.

Worms typically use common networking protocols to explore their local network. They spread spontaneously after finding vulnerable systems like older or unpatched software versions in need of upgrading.

Some worms can even access your email and send copies of it to your contacts to increase its spread. The higher the number of unprotected users, the faster and farther worms spread.

Not all systems are vulnerable to worm infection, however. Some are dependent on specific operating systems. Worms designed to infect the Microsoft Windows OS may not have the capability to infect the Apple Mac OS.

Worms may also struggle to infect systems that run fully patched and up-to-date software. That’s why developers highly recommend regularly upgrading your operating software: it protects your system.

Trojan horses

Trojan horse malware gets its name from the horse the Greeks used to infiltrate and destroy Troy. Similar to its Greek counterpart, Trojan horse malware can come under the guise of helpful software but from suspicious providers. Most people unintentionally open a Trojan horse thinking they downloaded legitimate software from a reliable source.

Some Trojan horses are harmless and designed purely for pranks like adding funny icons or temporarily messing with mouse functionality. Others, however, have more sinister purposes that can cause severe damage. The most dangerous of these can create back doors exploited by cybercriminals to gain access to your computer system.

At that point, they can do anything from deleting essential files to accessing sensitive, confidential, or personal information. Unlike worms and viruses, Trojan horses cannot self-replicate to infect other files.

Ironically, the most common example of a Trojan horse is antivirus software. That’s why it’s essential to check the legitimacy of any software source, especially when installing antivirus software, because far too often, software posing as cybersecurity software is malware itself.

Spyware

Malware a remote user secretly runs on another computer is known as spyware. Instead of disrupting your computer’s functionality, cybercriminals use spyware to gain remote access and extract sensitive information. The aim of spyware is often to steal personal or financial information from the victim.

The most common type of spyware is a keylogger. A keylogger keeps records of a person’s keystrokes that can reveal confidential information or login credentials like passwords.

Interestingly, some forms of spyware are relatively harmless and may even coincide with adware. Examples are the tracking cookies websites like Facebook and Google use to optimize ad placements depending on users’ browsing history.

Adware

Adware is a type of malware designed to collect information from your computer usage to provide custom advertisements to you. While most adware is more of an annoyance than a danger, some adware can cause performance problems for your system.

Some adware can redirect your browser to unsecured websites that could potentially contain spyware and Trojan horses. Additionally, if there’s enough adware installed, it can even slow down the whole system significantly.

Ransomware

Much like spyware and adware, ransomware is a cybercrime tool used to access sensitive information. However, ransomware takes that a step further by using that information to extort money from the victim.

Some ransomware is harmless and is often a scam or a bluff. An example of harmless ransomware is a program that can lock you out of your computer and demand money to unlock it. These kinds of ransomware are easy to bypass if you know what you’re doing. However, there is other ransomware that has teeth.

A prime example of dangerous ransomware is the kind that can encrypt critical files in your computer. Sometimes, that could still be a bluff you can bypass with enough computer knowledge. However, in most cases, these are the kinds where the hacker can threaten to destroy the decryption key. That will result in you losing the encrypted file entirely unless you pay the ransom.

Beware of Minecraft malware

It seems like malware is everywhere, from social media to popular games like Minecraft. The game has provided a creative outlet for many players of all ages. However, like many online games, it has its downside. The ability to create mods in-game skyrocketed Minecraft’s popularity, but it also introduced in-game vulnerabilities.

Like with any games that enable third-party modifications, you should be careful with your sources. Aside from ensuring you only get your mods from credible sources, it would be best if you also took other precautions. These include using a VPN, installing reliable antivirus software, and other forms of cybersecurity. 

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Ivan Serrano avatar

Ivan Serrano

Ivan is an enthusiastic writer who enjoys learning about business development and growth hacking. He also shares his knowledge of technology and marketing, helping improve communication on a global scale. More articles written by Ivan.

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