Online Crime in a Virtual World

Last Updated on August 22, 2023

I was recently clearing out my bookmarks and came across a link to an article in an Asian newspaper.    It was an example of an area that is growing incredibly quickly,  crime in online games.  The story tells the tale of a smitten young man, a girl and an online computer game – World of Warcraft.

What happened is the girl wanted to make her character more powerful but instead of playing the game and leveling it up she came up with another ‘fast track’ method.  She knew an American boy online in the game who was very keen on  her, so she gave him a challenge –

If you love me, give me your password to prove it”

All sounds quite romantic up to there, doesn’t it – however when  the American boy did give the password to the girl, she  then ruthlessly cleaned out his account.   Now this all might sound a little trivial, after all it was just ‘digital stuff’, weapons, armour, gold and jewels in an online game.  However for anyone who has ever played any of these games – it can take quite a lot of time and effort into acquiring all this stuff.

What’s more the digital gold and equipment actually has a ‘real world’ value.  There are thousands of sites where you can buy and sell game gold and equipment for real cash.  You can equip your character with a fast track to success and put it all on your credit card.  The industry is thought to be worth millions of dollars across hundreds of online games.

The young man was heartbroken and when he discovered the theft, he begged her to return his stuff – but she wouldn’t.  She didn’t consider it a real crime merely part of the game, after all none of it was real.  Most legal systems around the world would struggle to prove a crime in these circumstances.   In this situation the girl had simply asked for access to the account, then transferred all the items to her own character – she didn’t make any attempt to sell the stuff for personal gain.   It wasn’t nice, but was it a real crime.

This example however is dwarfed by the real criminals targeting online games.  There are hundred of virus and trojans which have been written specifically to steal users passwords in these games – Trojan-PSW.win32, Trojan-SPY.Win32.Delf, Trojan-PSW.Win32 are some of the more well known ones.  Once the user’s gaming password is known then all their valuables can be stolen and resold on one of the many websites that operate in this area.

The criminals know how to exploit these players too, they hang around gaming forums and come up with devious methods to install this malware on indiduals machines.  For example a common exploit is to circulate some sort of program or addon designed to give players an advantage in the game, of course it doesn’t but just emails the user account details instead.

It’s a huge business, the rewards can be very lucrative and the risks often negligible.

Can you imagine going to the local police station to report that your ‘sword of destiny’ and 500 ducats of gold has been stolen from your dwarf cleric

Most of the criminal gangs operating in this way are based in China and South Korea so bringing them to justice is going to be nigh impossible. There are laws like the Computer Misuse Act 1990 which could be used to prosecute – but in reality prosecutions are almost unknown.

From our story at least the young man probably learnt a valuable life lesson, he’s also learnt to be more careful with his usernames and passwords.
Here’s the link to the original story –