Minecraft Online Multiplayer Dangers For Kids
This week I was interviewed in regard to an incident where an Avalon boy 13years of age, had made friends on the very popular Lego like 3D video game Minecraft, with a New Zealand Minecraft gamer, where the online friendship turned into every parents nightmare.
Apparently, after playing online together for a year the two friends had a falling out, and the local Avalon boy was then targeted, harassed and hacked by the other player. The other gamer allegedly managed to steal personal information and credit card details from the Australian boy’s family computer. He then posted a lot of the boys personal information online and spent money on the Avalon boys family’s credit card. Because the other gamer is based in New Zealand it is very difficult for the police here in Australia to find out who the gamer is, and follow this up.
The financial loss could have been a lot worse, the thief only stole $60 from the credit card, it wasn’t bad enough to involve Interpol in this case. But the incident caused a lot of angst for the family, who had to change all their accounts and passwords and deal with strange phone calls and harassment from the New Zealand based gamer.
How Did This Happen?
It does sound like a scenario I’ve heard of before, where a user can be tricked into downloading a piece of software that gives another person total access to their computer. This type of remote access software or Virtual Network Computing (VNC), is very easy to set up, and is often used by genuine I.T consultants and help desk operators to assist users who require expert help with their computers. This VNC software allows a help desk operator to take temporary control of your computer to fix whatever is wrong with your device or within your settings.
One of the dangers with this type of software is that it can be quite insecure. Secure versions of these types of software usually require a “one time only” password. So that as soon as you “log off” from the software, your computer cannot be accessed again by the same service without you agreeing to it. You would need to supply the help desk operator a new password to access your computer again. There needs to be a new password for every new session.
However, apparently a lack of secure firewalls enabled on your computer might mean that your computer may be vulnerable to being hacked and breached again through this same gateway. This article by Sophos Security explains in more detail how this type of software can work.
So Is Minecraft Ok Then?
Minecraft didn’t cause the hacking, but playing online games with strangers leaves your child vulnerable if something goes wrong. You may not find out who the other player is if they decide to make trouble for your child. Worse still, is if the other player is an adult and grooms your child via a messaging app or Skype, they could try to blackmail the child into sending inappropriate photos. This type of blackmail is getting more and more common.
The big issue with your child playing with strangers online is that you may never know if another player is an adult or child. However, playing online with another child you don’t know, can be just as dangerous if the friendship goes sour as the one in this incident did. Police don’t know in this case if it was an adult or child, but it could easily have been a child. How to hack another’s computer is only a YouTube video away.
The bottom line is:
- Don’t allow your younger children to play online games with strangers – kids or adults. Playing on L.A.N (on the same internet connection via ethernet or WiFi) with friends, they know offline is fun and much safer. Or single Player. This recent article “A Parents Guide To Minecraft” gives parents a better idea on how Minecraft works and how children should play it to stay safe from strangers online.
- Set boundaries around playing online, if you find your children are playing online with strangers, then you need to deal with that as you would any other issue of pushing boundaries. Keeping an eye on who they are playing with online can be very very difficult. There’s a level of honesty that is really important to be able to tell if they are playing with offline friends that you know and approve of, or total strangers. You could always do some checking up, talking to the other player….
- With older kids, you can possibly ask them not to text/chat to other gamers whilst playing online. Again, this takes trust and honesty.
- It is sometimes easier to delay your child playing most online games until your child can be trusted to play safely. That means single player only, or only with known friends on private services or in same offline environment.
You can find out more about Minecraft and how to play it safely here!
List Of Popular Online Games:
- Call Of Duty
- Halo Reach
- Clash Of Clans
- Club Penguin
- Age of Empires Online
- Eve Online
- Far Cry
- Red Dead Redemption
- World Of Warcraft
- Free Realms
For more privacy and safety settings have a look at my Cyber Safety Manual.