The internet has enriched our lives with a vast number of advantages and conveniences, from shopping at e-commerce sites to online casinos. However, it has also introduced a new element of danger and insecurity. By going online, we are putting ourselves at risk of fraud, identity theft, or of inadvertently downloading viruses and malware onto our computers or other devices.
Thankfully, there are measures we can take to minimize these risks and many of us now do this automatically. However, when playing games online, it’s easy to overlook basic security, or to find that someone has managed to sneak past your defenses. This is especially true of peer-to-peer (P2P) gaming, where you connect directly with other players rather than going through a dedicated server.
What is peer-to-peer gaming?
Online gaming can basically be divided into two types: those that use a dedicated server and those that are peer-to-peer, where players connect directly with each other. In the first instance, the game is run on a server specifically setup for that purpose, where all of the online players connect to it. Player information goes to the server, telling it if someone has moved from one location to another, fired a gun etc., and the server updates the simulation accordingly; continually sending information back to all the players in the form of the ongoing game as they experience it.
With peer-to-peer games, players connect directly to each other. Sometimes one player may act as a surrogate server, or dedicated host player, that all other players connect to, but the fact remains that everyone connected is a player, so there are fewer protocols and safeguards in place when it comes to the sharing of information. When all the players connect to each other without using a host this is called a mesh.
Sometimes a P2P game may still have a server that runs peripheral services but not the game itself. These services may include scoreboards, unlocks, records of player progress, and the grouping of players. The games service will also handle the sharing of IP addresses between players, which means it provides a somewhat greater level of security and authorization than pure P2P gaming.
A P2P game can also have a dedicated server that simply acts as a packet reflector, for example, not running the game but distributing information between players. This provides a higher level of security, as network connections are protected, but the actual gameplay for all intents and purposes follows the P2P model.
Dangers of multiplayer games
The most popular P2P games are online multiplayer role-playing games, which may include thousands of players from all around the world interacting online simultaneously. Entering such a game is like walking into a major city with all of the associated risks and dangers. As everyone is playing online characters, you have no idea of their real identity or whether you can trust them. It should be noted that the lines between online in-game actions and real-world consequences are increasingly blurred.
These games often allow you to make in-game purchases using real money. The creation of virtual markets naturally leads to virtual crime, where players can be ripped off, or worse, have their financial information stolen or compromised. There is also the risk of giving away sensitive personal information in conversation or via your personal profile.
Risk of infection
As well as the danger of giving away personal or financial data, P2P games also come with the risk of viruses, malware or spyware that could damage your computer, or give someone else access to it. Be very wary of clicking on links, images or pop-ups unless you know exactly what you’re doing, and never download unauthorized software, cheats or other add-ons that could contain harmful material. Make sure your anti-virus software is up to date and that your firewall and browser configuration are secure and use a separate email to sign up for online games that you don’t use for anything else.
Always use strong passwords and change them regularly. Don’t use the same password over multiple sites. Don’t give out unnecessary personal or financial information, and assume that everything on the internet is public, even if it says otherwise. Never open unsolicited files in messages or click on links you’re not sure about. If anything suspicious happens, take a screenshot so that you can report it later.
Online gaming, P2P or otherwise, can be great fun, and most of the other players will be decent people. However, it’s always a good idea to be cautious and to protect yourself against the dangerous minority of scammers and criminals. By following these precautions, you’ll have a much better and safer gaming experience all round.
Laila Azzahra is a professional writer and blogger that loves to write about technology, business, entertainment, science, and health.