Infostealers target gamers: How to protect yourself 

Steam users are facing a surge in malware attacks. Could you be at risk? In this article, we’ll explain the threats gamers face, how Steam malware works, and what you can do to stay safe. 

Why are gamers at risk? 

Throughout the second half of 2023, gamers on Steam have been facing an onslaught of malware. Once installed, the malware steals sensitive data, corrupts files, and can allow hackers to launch more attacks. Bad actors are using a range of tactics—from compromising developer accounts to infiltrating gaming lobbies. 

Compromised developer accounts 

Compromised developer accounts of gamers

Recent months have seen attackers gain unauthorized access to Steam game developer accounts and then use them to distribute malware-loaded game updates. Gamers downloaded these updates, assuming that the patches would fix bugs and improve performance, only to have their devices infected. 

In response, Valve (the company behind Steam) has implemented new security measures. Before releasing updates, developers will need to go through a two-factor authentication process. This measure makes it harder for hackers to use official developer accounts to spread malware, even if they gain access to them. 

Many modding sites, like CurseForge and Bukkit, are also implicated. Attacks have been particularly prevalent in Minecraft, where a large modding community is active. Players often download modpacks, which consist of multiple mods and plugins. So, hackers have started hiding infostealing malware in these packs. Since summer, millions of users have downloaded malware-loaded modpacks. 

Self-replicating malware 

Another worrying threat is the rise of self-replicating malware in the online gaming space. Since June, these malware strains have been spreading through Call of Duty multiplayer lobbies. Hackers are exploiting vulnerabilities in Call of Duty that allow their malware to replicate and run localized code on users’ machines. 

Malware is not a new problem, but why are gamers being targeted in particular? And how worried should you be if you’re part of the gaming community?

Why are gamers being targeted? 

Gamers are high-risk targets for hackers due to their regular use of online platforms like Steam, GoG, and other gaming marketplaces. If hackers can gain access to the accounts used to upload game files and software updates, they can rapidly spread various malware types to thousands of users. 

The rise of the modding community in recent years has also increased the risks for gamers. Thousands of legitimate independent developers work hard to create mods for their favorite games, but it’s not hard for a few bad actors to take advantage of this community. We’ve seen this in particular with the Minecraft modpacks. 

Any digital marketplace is vulnerable to these kinds of attacks. The sheer scale of recent gaming cyberattacks, with downloads numbering in the millions, underscores the urgency for gamers to be vigilant. 

How can you protect yourself? 

Even with the risk of malware, you probably still want to use Steam and other gaming sites. If so, take the following steps to stay safe. 

1. Keep your software updated 

Most software updates from legitimate companies are not a threat—especially now that Steam developers are using 2FA. Regularly updating your operating system, antivirus software, and game files is fundamental in boosting your cybersecurity levels. Outdated software often contains vulnerabilities that hackers can exploit, so don’t let this particular story deter you from getting the latest updates. 

2. Exercise caution with third-party downloads 

Be discerning when downloading mods, plugins, or any other third-party content for your games. Modding has been great for many games, but it can be hard for sites like Steam to regulate mod files and check all downloads for threats. Try only downloading files from well-reviewed accounts with a history of safe and reliable work. 

3. Invest in antivirus software 

Having robust antivirus protection is a great way to lower malware risks. Ideally, you want a program that can scan files before they are installed and remove any threats that do appear on your device. Antivirus software doesn’t guarantee safety—nothing does completely—but it’s a step in the right direction.

4. Use a VPN 

A VPN protects your data with encryption, and it’s a good tool to use under any circumstances. For gamers, however, it can be especially useful. Firstly, it shields your IP address, protecting you from DDoS attacks and lowering the chances of doxxing attacks. It also improves your overall privacy and security, making your online experience (when gaming or otherwise) safer. 

Should you use a VPN for gaming? 

You should use a VPN for gaming. A VPN adds an extra layer of encryption to your internet connection, preventing malicious actors from intercepting your data. 

VPNs also prevent targeted bandwidth throttling. Sometimes, your internet service provider (ISP) may limit your bandwidth because you’re engaging in bandwidth-intensive activities, like online gaming. However, with a VPN, they won’t be able to monitor your activity and target your connection based on how you spend your time online. 

With a premium VPN, strong antivirus software, and a cautious approach to third-party downloads, you’ll lower the risks of online gaming. At the same time, gaming platforms—especially those that distribute mods—need to step up and maintain a higher level of security for their users.

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Waqar Ahmad

We have been working as marketing specialists for the past seven years. Our integral duties involve developing project strategy and outcome analysis. Recently, we have taken on more management tasks, and are currently leading two campaign creation teams. When we were in University, much interested in two things: business and leadership. When we learned about the field of SEO, we knew this is where our professional future would take place. We worked on successful SEO campaigns that have brought clients a profit margin improvement of more than 10%. In our spare time, we enjoy reading historical adventure novels and business books.

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