Have you ever thought you might be gaming online with a criminal?
They are scattered all over the video game industry. You would be naive at best to think otherwise. But what might be even more surprising is the sheer scale of criminality that can occurs through games.
With the rise of online servers in the last 10 years, it’s easier than ever for criminals to mingle with the rest of us.
Over 40 million are on Xbox Live, roughly 1.5 million users are playing PS3 online a day and over 9 million World of Warcraft paid subscriptions. And that’s just a few online networks. What it means is criminals have a huge outreach in today’s ever expanding plugged in gaming community.
The Common Crimes Online
- Illegal Gold Farming – building up currency online to sell in the real world currency. Inmates in China were forced to work 12-hour shifts playing online games. The gold farming industry equates to £500 million and cheap labour costs in China and Russia would mean gold farming sweatshops are highly likely.
- Online Sex Offenders – Luring naive youngsters has never been easier with younger gamers increasingly playing online, with little parental restrictions. New York recently removed 3,500 sex offenders from online platforms after Richard Kretovic was convicted of luring a 10-year old Xbox Live user and later abusing him.
- Account Theft – The whole PlayStation 3 network was hacked back in April last year. Masses of information was released, including names, birthdays, passwords and even some credit card details.
- Phishing – fraudulent attempts at acquiring personal details are always present within online gaming networks. Online gaming fraudsters often pose as authoritative figure and attempt attacks on younger gamers, usually proving to be more successful. But it’s not only the PSN that’s vulnerable – Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 on Xbox Live has come under many potential phishing attacks, as well as the company being scammed out of free Micrsoft points worth over $1.2 million.
- Illicit Material Streaming – the Xbox is designed as a home entertainment system in mind. With no filters to stop any contraband material streaming, the Xbox is often used as a conduit for streaming illicit material.
The Fightback Against Crime
Digital forensics is of ever increasing importance throughout the gaming industry to catch criminals online, involving the recovery of material found on digital devices. Nowadays, even gaming consoles can be used.
Hard Drives Seizure and Gaming Logs
Hard drives have been consistently used to gather vital data. An incident in Massachusetts involved a suspect having sex with an underaged girl. The vital piece of evidence, a video recording, was actually found on the suspect’s gaming console.
The investigator was stumped on finding the clues within the system and turned to digital forensics for help. His email is quoted below.
“I am working on a case where it is believed that the suspect may have recorded himself having sex with a 14 year old girl using an Xbox 360. The Xbox was set up in his bedroom and had a webcam attached to it that was pointed directly at his bed.
The suspect did record two other victims, and those videos were found on his PC in a different room. All of the victims say that they were not aware that they were being recorded and that his PC was not in the room at the time of the incidents.
Does anyone know if it is possible to record video with an Xbox 360? I looked at the hard drive using Explorer360 and was able to locate a large file (460 MB) that was created on the same day as the incident but I am unable to extract any useful data from it.”
Gaming logs are increasingly being used to track criminal movements during play. A recent batch of emails released by Anonymous shows saved game time stamps, checkpoints and even screenshots are being used to prove guilt.
The Data Convey
All welcome news so far, but you might be astonished at how much data huge companies have on you that they must release to police if asked for.
For example, Microsoft keeps subscription information on users for a certain period of time. In the UK, companies have a legal obligation to release data to police without needing to notify the user in question.
But did you also know Microsoft maintains a record of connection for all it’s users, disclosing IP addresses for Xbox Live logins, registration, billing information and even the games played to the police?
And it seems like a source worth tapping into for some. Especially so for the USA, who seems keen developing hardware and software that bypasses console security and reveal sensitive information on criminals, who often communicate through private channels to evade detection.
The New Age of Catching Criminals
Digital forensics seems the way forward for police to incriminate criminals with data gathered from gaming consoles.
It may seem a surprise, but when you think of the sheer size of the networks, its quite logical. Add in the increasing features consoles incorporate, from web cams to web browsers and consoles may yet prove more revealing in the future.
The criminals are out there and what better place to start than the place where they often let they’re guard down.
It’s certainly a tricky road ahead though. Just how much data do we want our network providers to have on us, which may inevitably end up in the wrong hands?
So the next time you’re playing online, just remember. They may be watching you, Big Brother style. Scary thought, huh?