One of the worst things that can happen to you is to have your account stolen. You feel violated and more than likely have an uphill battle ahead of you to get you’re your account back. And, if you do, you may never get all of your gear or gold back.
I’ve been playing MMOs for a few years now and I’ve been lucky enough to never get a keylogger or trojan on my system. I don’t go crazy with security programs or get extra paranoid when I’m surfing the internet. I just know a few fundamentals and run a little lightweight software in the background.
When considering how to secure my computer, my most important software considerations are that the programs are free, reliable, lightweight, and easily shut down. The idea behind this may be a little antiquated in today’s RAM world but it’s served me well. The premise is that the less RAM my security programs use, the faster my computer runs. Likewise, I like the ability to shut the programs down through the task manager when I boot up my favorite MMO, allowing the game to have access to as much memory as possible.
My goal today is to help you secure your accounts and rid yourself of a little stress when you’re browsing or downloading. I can’t guarantee you’ll never get logged. If you’re not doing anything to secure yourself though, or even very little, I can guarantee that you’ll be better off after working through this guide.
If you have a tip that’s not included but that you think would fit, feel free to email me at email@example.com.
Let’s begin with the two key programs I use.
AVG Free Anti-Virus Package: AVG is great free anti-virus suite that also includes several extra components, such as email and link scanners. There is some contention as to whether or not it’s the best. I’ve used it for some time, however, and can vouch for its reliability in the key areas I mentioned above.
While it’s not necessary to install the email scanner portion of this program, the link scanner is invaluable. It will place an icon next to your Google search results to tell you whether or not the link has been proven safe. Ever been worried that you might click on the wrong site and get a virus? This helps with that.
On top of that, AVG also does passive scanning while it is active. This means that is scans your computer for threats while you’re going about your business, without impacting the speed of your computer. It notifies you immediately if it finds anything suspicious and usually removes viruses quickly and painlessly.
- How to shut it down: *OPTIONAL* Most programs can be shut down through the task manager. AVG, like most anti-virus programs, stops you from doing this to prevent a virus from being able to disable it. You’re smarter than a virus, however, so press windows key+R to bring up your “run” window. Type in services.msc to pull up your Services window. Find “AVG Watchdog Service.” Click on it to open it, now, where you see “automatic”, change it to “disabled.” You may now shut down everything with the prefix “avg” in your task manager without having them restarting automatically. This disables the anti-virus. Remember to set this back to automatic when you’re done gaming.
- To make this process easier on yourself, make a shortcut on your desktop. Right click->new->shortcut then type in services.msc. This will make a desktop shortcut. Shutting it down and re-enabling shouldn’t take more than 30 seconds once you know where to go and frees up some extra memory.
Winpatrol: Winpatrol is another great and lightweight free program. It allows you to change your startup programs/services and actively monitors file associations. If a program tries to take over a file extension, Winpatrol gives you a screen popup telling you so and asks for approval. So, you know when you download a program that comes mysteriously bundled with spyware it never told you about? Yeah, this program will tell you when that spyware tries to change your PC and lets you tell it no. On top of that, it also links back to a database that gives you information on services you may not be familiar with, which is great in identifying suspicious processes. Apart from that, Winpatrol is also a full task manager replacement, offering far more functionality than the default windows task manager.
Firefox: This one’s a no-brainer for a lot of reasons. The most important however is that it lets you install addons to increase your computer’s security. It’s really included here for the sake of this addon:
- NoScript: This is perhaps one of the most important things you can do to prevent getting keylogged and also probably the biggest pain in the butt. What it does is prevent websites from running small programs (called scripts) behind the scenes. Scripting is the main way you’ll get keylogged by visiting websites. Eliminating it means that you’ll have to download the virus in another program. NoScript will by default stop websites that aren’t already “trusted” from running these scripts.
- It’s simple to install (go to the link at the bullet and download it, Firefox does the rest) but once it’s there, you’ll have to build the database of trusted sites. When you first load up Firefox after installing it, go to the websites you visit most. You’ll see a little bar on the bottom of your page, or perhaps a little S in a crossed out circle. This means scripts are being blocked. My suggestion is to click on that area and allow only the scripts it takes to see what you want to. This will allow the website to work normally while also blocking out ugly advertisements and preventing anything “extra” from going on. It will take a little while to build up the database (you’ll need to visit all the sites in your usual rotation and approve them) but after a day or so everything will be set and the only time you’ll notice it is when you need to. Like, when you’re going to a website you’re unsure of. Plus, who wants to see annoying ads whenever they go to a website?
Windows Vista Firewall: I use this because it’s the easiest. More than that though, it can also cause latency issues with World of Warcraft if you just disable it. This was confirmed by a blue poster in response to one of my high-ping posts a while back. Sorry, I couldn’t find the link.
Most of you probably know what a firewall does but for those of you that don’t, it will prevent random programs (viruses/trojans) from accessing the internet and sending your information (i.e. account passwords) to other people. There are other programs out there that may or may not work better but nearly all of them use more memory than Windows Firewall, in my experience. Zonealarm is a good alternative for Windows XP users. I hear their Vista release sucks, so I haven’t worked with it too much.
- *Important Note* The one failing I’ve noticed with Windows Firewall (and others may have the same issue, I don’t know) is that it will occasionally forget that you’ve added a program/port to its exception list. Yes, this sucks. On the other hand, it works and it’s not a memory hog. It’s rare but when it happens, you’ll know because you’ll the connection speed of whatever program it is slow down. On average, I’d guess this happens to me with MMOs about once every 4-6 months and it takes maybe five minutes to re-add the program and set it right. It’s a decent trade off, in my opinion. Some people disagree but this is what I’ve done and what’s worked.
That’s my program package. Not much but enough to be secure. Programs like NoScript and Winpatrol take some getting used to but they’re not as obtrusive as they sound. And they work.
Now that we’re past the program portion, let’s look at some of my best practices.
- Don’t visit gold/character selling sites. Many of these are designed to steal your information and will probably get you banned.
- Don’t visit random forum links unless they’re ran through a reputable domain (prefix http://SAMPLEDOMAIN…) that you trust.
- DO NOT visit crack or serial websites. Many of these are open in the fact that they give you trojans and/or keyloggers. If you’re looking for something like that (*shakes his finger*) get it from a place like mininova.org and then scan the downloaded file with AVG. Not that I’m advocating that, mind you.
- However, I’m not your parent, so if you decide to use P2P networks for your downloading needs, use torrents. They’ll get you far fewer viruses and give you a final file to scan and be sure it’s safe. It’s not risk free but it’s safer and, yes, quicker.
- Stay away from random downloadable games. Poker games, especially, will come bundled with extra software, often with spyware that will bog down your computer.
What to do if you get a keylogger or virus
If the worst happens and you get logged, the first thing you should do is to contact the game company and let them know the details. When you last played, when you found out you were hacked, and what you’re going to do. That’s assuming they haven’t found out and locked your account already, which they very well may have.
Companies like Blizzard will require proof that you’ve cleared your computer of all viruses and malicious software before they unlock your account.
The process of getting back a compromised account can sometimes take a long time, so you want to make sure you do it right. Don’t worry, you won’t have to format your computer. Still, now that you’re in this boat, you’re going to have to spend a little while bailing out the water. Thankfully, we have a near guaranteed way of getting your computer clean.
What is this miraculous way, you ask? Dancing the Security Tango of course! A local radio program, Sound Bytes, has compiled a great set of directions to clearing out your computer of everything that can seek to harm it. This method is great for any kind of virus, so it should be your go to before turning to formatting.
The process is detailed extremely well, and for free, on their site, so I won’t do them the disservice of copy-pasting it here. However, clicking this link will take you to their OS page, where you can select which operating system you’d like specific directions for.
I’ve used this method on several computers myself and, just based upon what each program does and covers (I won’t get into that here), it’s pretty darn sure to take care of your problem. I vouch for it.
To answer a few commonly asked questions:
Q: I’m new to computer security, will this be hard?
A: There’s technical information, yes, but they detail everything for those new to computers. Don’t worry, they leave nothing to be guessed at.
Q: How long does it take?
A: When I did it to my parent’s computer, it took about three hours but they had a lot of information. Think of it this way, you’ve invested time into your account and your time on the computer. This is your way to get it back. It’s a must do.
Q: Do I have to do it for every profile?
A: They suggest to on the site. Viruses can burrow between profiles. Don’t let them hide by only cleaning your profile.
That’s it. That’s the guide. Hopefully, following the above guidelines will help you to protect your account and, ultimately, your whole computer. I’ve been on a lot of MMO forums in my time and you see more paranoia there than there needs to be. By using some basic tools and best practices, you can make your computer a much more stress free tool.
DISCLAIMER: I make no guarantees that this guide will work for every reader. I’m not liable for any damage you do to the computer following the directions above. That being said, nothing should put you at risk of damaging your computer. It’s important that you follow the directions for the Security Tango. Playing PC Superman is dangerous and you might regret it, so don’t try unless you’re willing to accept the consequences, good and bad.