When the PlayStation Network was taken down last summer, it cost countless millions of dollars to repair the damages to the infrastructure, and the entire world knew about it. But there's another serious issue out there that less people know about, and if you have an Xbox LIVE gamertag, you could soon become the target of one of these random attacks.
They're dubbed the "FIFA hacks," because when a player's gamertag is hacked, their credit card that's attached to their account is used to purchase goods for FIFA 12, among other titles. The number of reports has been steadily climbing. In fact, just a few weeks ago, a friend of mine had his account hacked, his gamertag changed, and over $100 worth of Microsoft Points charged to his bank account. Of course this is only one example of many hacked accounts out there, and when you look at the twenty-plus million Xbox LIVE accounts, if even the tiniest fraction of that number is having problems, that still leaves the potential for thousands of people to be targeted.
Seeing this happen to someone I know opened my eyes to an issue I hadn't previously spent too much time thinking about. If you look at the big picture, Microsoft's security is pretty lax when it comes to keeping unwanted people out of your account. Their Windows LIVE ID system is essentially the only line of defense to keep your account safe, and with the growing number of hacked IDs, this is proving to be inadequate.
As a gamer who spends an inordinate amount of time on my Xbox, using my hard-earned money to purchase content with Microsoft's ridiculous Space Money (I'll save that for a future rant), I want to know that my account is safe. Not just because, in this economy, few people can handle hundreds of dollars being randomly charged on their account, but also because I worked hard to make my Gamertag a true symbol of just how little social life I really have. If someone was to gain access to my account, unlock achievements on it, and spend my money, even when I got my account back it'd feel like returning home after a burglary. Even though the miscreant that vandalized my eProperty is gone, the evidence of what they've done never really leaves.
I won't even go into the long wait you'll have to endure should your account get hacked. A month is about how long it takes for Microsoft to investigate the issue (my friend got his account back in just over three weeks). For many of us, that's far too long to go without playing our favorite games or talking with our friends—especially if those friends live in other states. Microsoft hasn't been attacked on the scale that Sony was last year, but their consumers are being targeted on a fairly large scale already. Many sites and platforms that store your credit card information require you to enter the security code every time you make a purchase, but Microsoft doesn't require that. Adding that simple level of security would at least keep our money safe, though truly protecting our accounts will require much more than that.
For the longest time, Microsoft made it incredibly difficult to remove the credit card information that gets linked to your account when you use it to purchase something on Xbox LIVE. Thankfully, that's no longer an issue now that you can remove payment options easily from the dashboard. What we need is another level of security between you and those who want access to your account and money. Even if you're disciplined in the art of making great passwords (hint: don't use your birth date, name, or other easy-to-find info) that doesn't necessarily mean you're safe. There needs to be another layer of protection, whether it's in the form of a password that's required every time you sign on, a code to unlock certain information while you're on your account, or something else. Until something like that gets implemented, I suggest updating the email and password associated with your account and removing your credit card information. You can use point cards that can be purchased online so you don't have to remove yourself from your Cheeto-stained beanbag. While that may be a little inconvenient, it's better to be safe than sorry (and suddenly broke).
Hackers have always been a problem, and this isn't an issue that will ever go away. So long as there's an Internet and people with too much time on their hands, or a group of socially inept individuals with a misguided sense of vigilantism, innocent people will have to pay for it. It's unfortunate, but it's just one of the many side effects of that big bundle of tubes we call the Internet. Luckily, there is something that can be done to make the issue less prevalent, or, at the very least, make it more of a pain in the bum for these people to do what they do.
Date: January 16, 2012
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central. This week's is also purely a work of fiction*