Internet security is an increasingly important issue. In this day and age, there are many different dangers online. From script kiddies to hackers and, yes, even your ex, threats to your digital life can come in many forms. As a gamer, your digital life is a potentially massive one. You probably can’t even remember how many accounts are in your possession right now. These could include your Steam or Xbox account, filled with expensive games, to a simple account from Epic which is only connected to one game.
Every account is precious and priceless to the gamer. So, how do we protect ourselves in this era of digital threats? We spoke with Dutch Technology Journalist, Daniël Verlaan about his online manual, Watch Your Hack, which can help you live a more secure digital life.
Watch Your Hack
MHG: Daniël, please tell us a little about yourself and your job.
DV: “During the day, I work at Dutch broadcaster RTL, where I publish stories about technology, mostly about hackers en cybercrime. In the evening I like to play games, drink beers and watch bad reality tv.”
MHG: Did you always have a passion for cyber security?
DV: “Not really. My journalistic career started with writing about games, actually. But at that time, around seven years ago, I still used really weak passwords like ‘google123’ or something. For me, Edward Snowden (2013) and his revelations about the NSA were my wake up call, and I really became interested in cyber security.”
MHG: Did something happen in the past that made you start this brave crusade of educating people about their digital safety?
DV: “I write a lot about hacks, and most hacks are successful because people know far too little about the internet. I gave security tips on my Twitter account, and someone tweeted: why not make a guide? That’s when I had the idea for Watch Your Hack.”
MHG: Why are gamers uniquely threatened by an increasingly dangerous digital ecosystem?
DV: “Gamers have the same threat model like any other internet user: you have an email account, you order things online, maybe have a PayPal account. Because criminal hackers are always looking for money. As a gamer, you maybe have in game items that are worth some money. I know gamers that got hacked for rare item in WoW or their PlayStation Play subscription.
Another threat is downloading games illegally. You shouldn’t do that anyway, but most illegal games on torrent websites are loaded with malware like ransomware.”
MHG: What about kids (our children and their digital accounts)?
DV: “If you have kids, please let them use a password manager account that you manage. You can share passwords for like Netflix and keep an eye where they have accounts. If you start from a young age with information security and password managers, those kids will learn how to protect themselves online. Also, don’t give them your password for the App Store or Google Play so that they can’t buy in-app items. And always connect your own (parent) account to theirs: you can do that in Android en iOS for example.”
MHG: Obviously, in the manual we can read all your advice on Cyber Security, but perhaps you can give our readers a few pointers to pique their interest.
What are your top 3 tips for anyone to better secure themselves online?
DV: “1. Update your devices. I know updating can be a pain in the ass, but it’s the most important protection against a lot of hacks. Update your firmware, software and apps. It’s my hobby now!
2. Use a password manager. Your life will be not only safer but way more convenient too. I recommend LastPass (free) or 1Password (paid).
3. Use two-factor authentication for your most important accounts, like your email, social media and business accounts. If you can, disable two-factor authentication via sms and only use locally generated codes with an authenticator app.”
MHG: Do you have any tips for when I create a new account? Should I leave information out?
DV: “It really depends on the account. If, for example, a social network wants to know where you live, you can just enter a different address and the correct city. Just think about the information that you leave behind, and what happens when that information gets hacked and leaked to the public.”
MHG: Are there any cheap or free services to let me know if a website I have an account with was breached? Are identity protection companies worth it?
DV: “The website service that lets you know when your account has been compromised is Have I Been Pwned from well known security researcher Troy Hunt. You enter your email address and see where your email and password have been hacked/leaked. I don’t recommend any identity protection companies: just be careful with giving out information like your social security number or a scan of your password. And if you need to send someone a scan, use an app to watermark the picture and write down the purpose of the scan and the date. If it’s gets stolen, the criminal can’t use it for opening a bank account in your name.”
MHG: What about free VPN tools or services? What is safe to use, and what should we avoid?
DV: “Please, don’t use a free VPN service. Most free VPN services sell your browsing data to companies. If you want a VPN, then Private Internet Access (3$ per month) is a great choice. And if you really don’t want to pay: Tunnelbear has a free option that let’s you use 500MB of data each month.”