Malware attacks rise as mobile and PC gaming explode in Southeast Asia

mobile gaming malware
Phone gamer playing mobile game. Image by TeroVesalainen | Bigstockphoto

Over the last year, lockdowns have led to Southeast Asia’s emergence as a mobile gaming hub. A survey by InMobi revealed that in Indonesia alone, the pandemic resulted in 46% of people turning to mobile gaming for entertainment for the first time in their lives.

With the explosion of mobile games, Southeast Asia is also seeing an unprecedented rise in cybersecurity attacks. Since 2020, leading cybersecurity solutions provider Kaspersky has monitored and blocked around 100,000 mobile malware attacks in SEA per quarter, with the first three months of 2021 logging 205,995 incidents.

In a newly released report, Kasperksy detected 382,578 mobile malware attacks in the first half of 2021, 13.6% higher than the threats in the same period last year. Indonesia suffered the worst in the region, with 232,485 attacks or as much as 60% of the total number detected in Southeast Asia. Thailand is a distant second with 54,937 threats, and the Philippines ranks third with 22,248 attacks.

A universal villain

Around the world, mobile games are facing increased cybersecurity threats. Kaspersky noted that PC game-related cyberthreats soared to 2.48 million detections in Q2 2020, along with the introduction of lockdowns. This is a 66% increase from the previous quarter, with 1.48 million attacks detected.

Researchers at Avast also report that gamers are making hackers rich as they play free versions of popular games downloaded from online forums. According to them, many versions of Grand Theft Auto V and NBA 2K19 are laced with hidden malware, particularly with a crypto-mining malware called Crackonosh, which has amassed as much as US$2 million from unwilling gamers to date.

Once downloaded, crypto-mining threats like Crackonosh work by generating digital money like Monero through the blockchain. The malware has been found in multiple countries globally, with the Philippines and Brazil recording the most victims at 18,448 and 16,584, respectively.

The unstoppable protagonist

Despite the rise in cybersecurity attacks, mobile and PC gamers in Southeast Asia are adamant to continue playing.

Premium publishers such as the Singapore-based SEA group (formerly known as Garena) are fueling the growth of mobile gaming, which is predicted to generate around 70% of all gaming revenue in the region by the end of this year. In addition to apps from top Singaporean and Indonesian publishers like SEA and Telkomsel, Vietnam-based apps VNG and LuuTinh are also capturing Southeast Asian gaming audiences, quickly transforming into tight-knit communities in the region.

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