Online Gaming Risks & Safety Tips to Avoid Them

Posted on Sep 10, 2022 by Ezequiel Bruni

What are the risks of online gaming? It’s an interesting question to ask, and a challenging one to answer. Gaming is, on the one hand, a rather safe hobby in general terms. People who are inside playing video games instead of, say, doing extreme sports or drinking whiskey on a balancing wire can statistically expect a longer life span. Probably.

On the other hand, online gaming requires you to be permanently connected to the internet, and that changes your threat model in a big way. While plenty of people engage in online gaming with no real issues beyond the occasional bit of smack-talk, there are certainly a few risks.

Fortunately, most of these risks can be avoided by following a few simple safety rules, and using Private Internet Access for an extra layer of security. In this article, we’ll cover the main issues, how to avoid them, and how much or little you should actually worry about them.

Note: while there have been various studies about how online gaming affects the human brain, and the general health of the gamer, this article is focused mostly on the potential security risks of the hobby.

Quick Guide: How to Play Halo Infinite With a VPN

Lowering your ping and making your connection more secure only takes a couple of minutes:

  1. Get PIA VPN.
  2. Fire up the app, select the server of your choice, and click Connect.
  3. Enjoy your favorite games with enhanced security!

8 Top Dangers of Online Gaming

1. Malware, Spyware, and Viruses

This is more of a problem for PC players than their console counterparts, and definitely more of a problem for people who are always downloading new games to try and play with their friends. In short, sometimes downloading a game can get your PC infected with some kind of malware or spyware.

This usually happens when downloading games from unofficial sources. Sometimes attackers will try to infect as many people as possible by repackaging a game, and distributing their unofficial build with a few nasty surprises in the mix.

And then, in some very rare cases, a game will actually come officially bundled with some adware as a sort of Faustian business deal. In other words, they’re selling your digital soul for cash. Look out for this in some free games.

How to protect yourself from malware, spyware, and viruses

This one is simple: always download the game from official sources. Using a distribution platform like Steam, Epic Games, or GoG is a good idea. Failing that, download the game only from the official website, or the developer’s page. And check the reviews to see if anyone reports the game doing anything shady.

2. Account Takeover

Attackers will sometimes look for ways to take over other people’s accounts in online games. This is sometimes to hold the account for ransom, or to sell the account with all of its progress and cosmetics to someone else. In games with tradable skins and other items, they might literally just want your stuff.

In any case, losing your account can result in a loss of privacy, and the loss of things you’ve paid for. It’s annoying at best, and you can lose a lot at worst.

How to protect yourself from account takeovers

First and foremost, never give out your account information to anyone. Just don’t. Also, make sure you enable two-factor authentication, if it’s available, to help avoid getting your account hacked. Also, don’t use the same password for all your accounts, so if one gets hacked, the others won’t also be easily accessed.

3. Identity Theft

Sometimes they want more than your account. Sometimes they want you. Well, they want your name, social security number (or local equivalent if you’re not in the US), and credit card info, at any rate. And, if attackers can get into your online game accounts, they can get a lot of that information.

Maybe not your social security number, but the rest of it may well be available.

How to protect yourself from identity theft in online gaming

It’s mostly the same advice you’ll need to prevent account takeover. Never give out account information to strangers. Enable two-factor authentication. Don’t give out too much information about yourself, either. Specifically, try not to answer questions like “What was your first pet’s name?” unless you know your gaming buddies VERY well.

4. Swatting and Doxxing

Sometimes attackers skip past trying to steal your money, or your identity, and go straight to trying to hurt you. Swatting is the practice of calling in serious threats, think terrorism and the like, and sending the police to your address. It’s happened to plenty of private gamers and public streamers alike, occasionally with tragic consequences.

Doxxing is when a malicious party posts your name, address, phone number, and other personal identifying information in public. The goal is usually for others to harass or even hurt you.

How to protect yourself from swatting and doxxing

Start with the same advice as above. Secure your account as best you can, and don’t give out personal information. Also, this is where a VPN really comes in handy. Specifically, a VPN can mask your IP address, which prevents people from tracing your connection back to your location.

5. Data Breaches

Despite the best efforts of IT professionals, it happens sometimes. Information security is an ever-changing, constantly evolving field where new threats emerge daily. A system gets broken into, or maybe a server wasn’t kept up to date, or someone at the company gets scammed, and suddenly user account information is being sold or dumped on the internet.

It’s unfortunate, but it happens even in the most secure organizations. Game developers and publishers are no exception to this inevitability, so it’s worth considering this when gaming online.

How to protect yourself from data breaches

You can’t directly prevent data breaches if your game’s website or console’s network gets hacked, unfortunately. The best you can do is occasionally check websites like Have I Been Pwned to see if your accounts have been compromised, and be ready to change your password at least.

Also, do some research on the games and platforms you use. See if they get hacked a lot before you buy in.

6. DDoS Attacks

DDoS attacks are a bit more petty than the other attack types. A Dedicated Denial of Service attack is when a ton of servers and computers controlled by someone else all try to connect to your network, PC, or console at the same time. This floods your network, and can actually cut off your access to the internet entirely.

These attacks usually won’t cause you to lose data or money, but they can really put a damper on your day. They often are organized by trolls, sore losers, and sometimes by people who don’t like a particular streamer, for example.

How to protect yourself from DDoS attacks

This is another way that a gaming VPN can save you a lot of trouble. By routing your traffic through a VPN server, DDoS attacks will hit that server instead of your home network. PIA happens to have DDoS mitigation built into every server, so your connection shouldn’t even lag.

7. Phishing Emails

Phishing emails are when you get an official-looking email from your favorite MMO’s website, telling you to click a link. Only that link might lead to a page that only looks like the game’s website, and is designed to steal your login information.

On the other hand, they might be using a Cross Site Scripting (XSS) attack. This is where you click on a link to the real website, but the link itself contains malicious code that can then be injected into the website as you log in, compromising your account.

How to protect yourself from phishing emails

If you get an email asking you to log in and change some settings, make sure it’s actually coming from the game developer’s actual website. Specifically, check to make sure the domain name matches that of the game’s website, the developer’s site, or the publisher’s site.

But even then, domains can be spoofed. Go directly to the game’s or developer’s website in your browser, just in case. Don’t click any links in the email if you can help it.

8. Social Engineering and Cyberbullying

Social engineering is when people try to compromise your security by, well, talking to you. They’ll try to gain your trust, or just trick you by pretending to be an employee of your favorite online game’s developer, or an employee of PlayStation, or what have you.

Cyberbullying is all in the name, of course. It’s harassment, plain and simple, and it’s more common than any of us would like in the gaming world. Dealing with it long term can cause a host of mental health issues, and it can ruin your love of gaming if you let it.

How to protect yourself from social engineering and cyberbullying

It’s not a perfect solution to either problem, but it’s good to get familiar with both the reporting and blocking functions of your game or platform. Report every attempt to gather your personal information, and every instance of harassment, and block away.

Another thing to do is focus on games where the developers have fostered positive communities. Deep Rock Galactic comes to mind. The game is practically designed to create camaraderie, and that led to the creation of a wonderful community.

Why PIA Is the Best VPN for Safe Online Gaming

First of all, changing your IP address is a cinch. Connect to any of PIA’s VPN servers on your PC or via a router, and that’s done. Secondly, PIA uses strong VPN encryption to protect all data going between your PC or home network, and the VPN server. If you game on public Wi-Fi, no one on the local network will be able to steal your data, and not even the network administrator will know what you’re playing.

Plus, PIA is a fast VPN with a global network of 10-Gbps servers for lag-free gaming.

PIA also has a proven no-logs policy, a kill-switch to keep any of your data from leaking on public networks, options for anonymous payments, and more fantastic features to help you stay safe while gaming.

You can try it out risk-free with a 30-day money-back guarantee.

How to Use PIA for Online Gaming Protection

All you have to do is sign up for PIA VPN, download the app to your device, and connect to a server.

You can also set up PIA on your router to cover your game consoles. This way, you can stay safe while on your PlayStation, Xbox, or Nintendo Switch

Online Gaming Made Safe and Simple with PIA

Despite the risks involved, you can stay safe while online gaming if you take the proper precautions. If you can game in moderation and keep your VPN connected at all times, you’re golden!

PIA VPN has the advanced privacy features you need to stay protected from risks like cyberbullying and DDoS attacks. PIA prevents other gamers from seeing your real IP address and allows you to enjoy gaming online with absolute privacy.


Why is online gaming a problem?

It isn’t, under most circumstances. Playing a moderate amount while taking appropriate digital security measures makes online gaming as risky as any other sedentary hobby… so, not that risky. Using a gaming VPN while you play and going outside in the fresh air for a while every day will prevent a lot of potential issues.

How does online gaming affect the brain?

In general terms, you get much the same mental benefits that you’d get from socializing with friends any other way. But it must be said that gaming in general, and online gaming with grindy mechanics in particular, is designed to trigger the release of Dopamine, one of the brain’s “happy” chemicals. If gaming is your only source of the stuff, that presents a higher risk of addiction.

How many hours of gaming is too much?

That depends on the person. How long can you play before gaming gets in the way of work, self care, and your relationships with others? Go beyond that number, and that’s too many hours. It really is as simple as that, for the most part.

How long should a 14-year-old play video games per day?

So much is asked about the negative effects of online games on students and children. Really, it’s the same as it is for an adult: if gaming is negatively affecting the rest of their life, they’re playing too much. 

Is 2 hours of gaming okay?

In my personal experience, those are rookie numbers. All jokes aside, it depends on your responsibilities and priorities in life. Those who use gaming as their primary avenue of socialization might find that two hours is not enough. Working parents might be lucky to have two hours free for gaming in a week.

How does gaming affect mental health?

In moderation, gaming has largely proven to have beneficial effects on mental health, like any other hobby. It can make you feel happier, help you form connections with other people, and even improve pattern recognition and other mental skills. In excess, however, it can lead to lost relationships, depression, loneliness, insomnia, and other issues.

Are video games addictive?

They can be. While a study from BYU concluded that 90% of gamers play video games in ways that don’t cause any harm, some people can absolutely get addicted to games. This isn’t helped by the fact that, yes, some online games literally have psychologists on hand to figure out how to make you play as much as possible.

What is gaming burnout?

It’s sort of the opposite of gaming addiction. It’s when you’ve played so much that you lose all desire to play games, and just can’t do it anymore. If you’re experiencing this, don’t force it. Go and do literally anything else. Especially consider taking up a few non-digital hobbies, for variety.

What is a risk that users may face while playing games online?

There are several: account takeover, identity theft, DDoS attacks, phishing attacks, swatting, and so many more. Fortunately, most of these can be avoided by using two-factor authentication, being careful about the information you share, and using PIA VPN to add a layer of security to your connection while gaming.