Gamers, keep your virtual guard up

By Brian Hagberg
50th Space Wing Public Affairs

SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — While sitting at a Schriever workstation, there are plenty of reminders to maintain operational security, protect personally identifiable information and beware of malicious software and phishing attempts. Most people probably don’t have similar reminders next to their home computer, smart television or video game system.

Perhaps they should.

A recent survey from the Pew Research Center says “about half of American adults (49 percent) ‘ever play video games on a computer, TV, game console or portable device like a cellphone,’ and 10 percent consider themselves ‘gamers.'”

With the ability to link game consoles to the Internet, gamers are now able to play with, or against, other gamers from around the world, and the number of participants doing so is growing. According to Sony, there are more than 150 million members in its online platform, PlayStation Network, compared to only 75 million members in 2011.

Protecting privacy and sensitive information should be a concern for any military member registering for an online gaming account.

“[Members] should avoid using their real name and it’s recommended to create a new email address with no PII to associate to the profile,” said Jesse Bockman, Air Force Office of Special Investigations special agent.

Members should also refrain from providing their age, location and military or government affiliation when creating an account.

“That eliminates any compromise in the event the member’s account is hacked,” Bockman said.

If possible, using the same or similar privacy settings members have for their social media accounts can also protect information.

“All the information you wouldn’t share publicly on Facebook, why would you share it on a gaming site?” said Frank Vigil, 50th Space Wing chief of information protection. “You want to make sure you’re not advertising who you are, who you work for and where you work.”

It’s not just the online profile information members need to be cognizant of while gaming. Consoles that include a headset for spoken interaction during game play provide a different type of threat.

“Online gaming is popular almost worldwide and you can never be certain who is on the other end,” Bockman said. “You have to keep in mind no matter how many times you have engaged in conversation with someone online, they are still a stranger.”

Vigil said people looking for information will often try to make their target feel like they have a shared experience, such as a deployment or other military service, or something else in common to gain trust.

“You play games for hours and hours online and you start feeling as if you’ve actually developed a relationship,” he said. “You have no idea how legit this person’s profile is. Don’t forget you’re not actually speaking to somebody, you’re speaking to somebody you think you’re talking to, via a virtual reality world.”

“You never know who you’re talking to on the other end,” Bockman agreed. “Online gaming has led into cases ranging from identity theft to homicide.”

Both Vigil and Bockman said anytime a member is on a headset and a person on the other end starts asking about personal or operational information to either steer the conversation in another direction, or end it altogether.

Vigil said it is important to report any suspected attempt at gaining OPSEC, even if the member feels their position isn’t critical to the overall operation.

“It may be nothing,” Vigil said. “[But,] your one piece of information that you don’t think is worth reporting might be the one piece that goes with these 20 other pieces that now makes the picture clear.”

To report suspicious behavior to the appropriate authorities in Europe, people should use iReport. Click here for more details.