A Free Educational Resource Created by Carnegie Mellon University to Empower You to Secure Your Part of Cyberspace


Playing online games or games run from your computer

There are two main categories of online games: installed and browser-based games. Installed games are those that need to be installed on your computer, while browser-based games only require any standard Web browser that you use to connect to the Internet. With online games, generally one computer keeps track of all the players' actions and the game state. This computer, which is a server, is called the host, and all players have to connect to this host computer to join the game.

The game publisher provides a world where people may play against each other, as opposed to single player games where you compete against a computer opponent. Most of these games are bought in stores, and you must pay an up-front fee and a subscription in order to have access to the host computer. An alternative is to set up a private local area network (LAN) server, so that friends may play against each other. Usually such unregulated servers do not involve a fee.

Some types of online games include:

  • Massive Multi-player Online Games (MMOGs): MMOGs involve large numbers of players connecting to servers and playing simultaneously. Among MMOGs, the subclass MMO Role Playing Games (MMORPG) is most dominant, with some of the more popular ones like Everquest and World of Warcraft boasting hundreds of thousands of players interacting online with each other in real time. Typically, the company that develops a game provides the host computer that all players connect to. When you connect to this computer, you are granting direct access to your computer, so you should be willing to trust this company and its software before playing.
  • Browser-based games: These games are played directly on a Web site. To play these games, all you need to do is access a Web page using your Web browser. Generally registration of a free account is required, but some require no registration at all and you can start playing immediately.
  • Online gambling: You can place bets in online casinos by accessing a Web page or by running special software provided by the casino. While online gambling occurs in a virtual world, the money involved is very real.

Standalone games: Standalone games are usually bought in stores and do not require a subscription. These games often have an online component that you can use in order to play with other people over the Internet. Depending on the game, the game host may be owned by the game publisher or by individual players.

Games: security threats & prevention tips

  • Denial of Service An attack whereby excessive traffic is sent deliberately to a connection
  • Intrusion Accessing a computer without permission
  • Malware Programs that are designed to harm your computer
  • Social Engineering Tricking people into giving out personal information
  • Spyware Software that sends information from your computer to a third party without your consent

Games: common problems and solutions

Is online gambling legal?

Many online gambling games also involve real money, with games like blackjack and poker. In the United States, most of the online gambling Web sites are unregulated, which has caused a surge of gambling opportunities. Although it is illegal to run a casino without a license, a rule does not exist yet for online gambling. Recently President Bush signed an act (Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act 2006) that makes online gambling illegal, but the act is weakly structured. The act makes transactions from banks or similar institutions to online gambling sites illegal, but has not provided for enforcement measures yet. The act does not give banks the power to stop any transactions that involve gambling, and it does not provide enforcements that stop Internet service providers from allowing such Web sites. The act was successful in shutting down very popular gambling sites that were publically traded, but it was unsuccessful in stopping lesser known and private online gambling Web sites. New bills introduced recently seek to legalize online gambling and "games of skill," but have not been passed yet.

Indirectly, the act does not make it illegal to gamble from home. With many gambling servers physically located outside the U.S., home users easily find these foreign Web sites and legally gamble. The danger of online gambling, however, is that these Web sites are not authorized by the U.S. government, and the risk is very high risk that they may be ploys to take advantage of users. People have submitted numerous complaints of being charged thousands of dollars on their accounts and credit cards by such companies, but there is no one that can be found to to blame but the gambler!

After gambling online, I'm not sure if I need to pay taxes on my winnings.

Online gambling is illegal, and therefore one could support the argument of avoiding taxes on illegal activities. However, under the U.S. Tax Code, all income for U.S. citizens is taxable, whether earned in the U.S., overseas or on the Internet. Because Internet gambling is unregulated, the tax structure for Internet gambling lies in a grey area. Arguments could be made for either case, but there is no strongly defined rule.

Do online casinos really pay the winners?

Frauds are not uncommon where an online gambling company refuses to pay the betters. One of the popular cases where the company did not pay the winner is described on MSNBC . Online gambling is unregulated and termed illegal, so it is highly risky from a player's point of view to get favorable outcome. Also cases reported in online gambling forums describe some unfair practices by online casinos that cheat in order to decrease the player's chance of winning.

Users should realize that online gambling is termed as illegal in the U.S. and should avoid it, even if the laws are not clearly crafted. In cyberspace, you never know whom you will interact with and the chances of getting defrauded are high.

Do game copying and backups violate Digital Rights Management (DRM)?

Although the front cover of your game may say that you can back up and re-install it as many times as you want, the reality might be completely different. Many games can be backed up a limited number of times only. And, the back-up might be restricted to the game data only and not the entire game. All this information is normally provided in fine print on the back of the game cover or CD. This means that backing up the entire game as a whole is actually a violation of DRM.

Many game providers allow copying to more than one machine. The number of machines, however, is limited in many cases and exceeding it may result in infringement of DRM. Restrictions should be carefully analyzed from the agreement that is provided with the purchase copy. Fine print and important copying and back-up information should be read before attempting to do the same.

Connect Safely from Different Places


Before playing a game at work, make sure your company allows it. You may need administrative privileges on your computer to install new software or modify your computer's configuration, so you may need the help of your company's systems administrator or IT department. Generally, we recommend that you work with your employer to make sure you are following company guidelines. The information provided here should be considered supplemental to any information that your employer has given you.

Depending on the policies of your workplace, your employer may log the types of activities that you do on your computer and store this information in an electronic archive. They may examine this archive or be required to turn it over to the government or law enforcement officials if asked. Therefore, you should be careful about the things that you say and the things that you do while gaming online.

Because downloading or sharing copyrighted computer games without paying for them is illegal, your company could be prosecuted if you use your company’s Internet connection to download or share games. Your company could then take legal action against you to recover their losses (not to mention you'd probably lose your job).

Many companies do not allow online gaming because it can interfere with doing work, so you should not play games during work hours. Even if you are playing during lunch or after work hours, make sure you are allowed to your company's equipment to play games.


Handheld computers have come a long way since the Palm Pilot of the mid-1990’s. You can now use your PDA or mobile device to play games with others online. For example, Windows PocketPC version includes the Internet Explorer Web browser, which you can use to access online gaming Web sites. Other mobile devices include cell phones that can play video games, and these are used widely around the world.

When you use your mobile device in public spaces you become part of a public network, and that leaves you susceptible to attacks from anyone using the same network. Since your data is traveling freely in the air, anybody could intercept your data and steal your personal information. If you must use the Internet in a public place, make sure that the connection is encrypted.

On the road

All around the world, the wireless revolution has made our lives easier by giving us Internet access wherever we go: cafés, hotel rooms, and even airports. But in these public environments you must be careful while accessing the Internet and playing online games. Since anybody can have access to public computers, they could be tampered with or prepared to steal your personal information. When you use your own laptop in public spaces you become part of a public network, leaving you susceptible to attacks from anyone using the same network.

Ethical Issues

When you download games from file sharing systems like Kazaa and Limewire, make sure that the games are not pirated. Game creators work hard to develop and publish games. When you steal a copy by downloading it illegally, you take money away from them that they have earned. The Entertainment Software Association estimates that the industry lost 3 billion dollars to piracy in 2004.

Legal Issues

Online gambling is termed illegal in the U.S. Many online gambling Web sites, however, are physically located in other countries and unregulated by the U.S. People are not restricted from playing at home, but players run a high risk of interacting with criminals and using untrustworthy Web sites.

It is illegal to download or share copyrighted computer games without paying for them. If you are caught you could face severe fines or even jail time.

Privacy Issues

As with any online interaction, be careful about the personal information that you divulge when playing games online. Also, remember that people you meet online may not be who they say they are.

Chat rooms, forums, online gaming Web sites, and instant messengers generally require you to register once by providing personal information (e.g., full name, user id, password, email address). This information can be stolen by hackers and used to impersonate you. In order to protect your identity, read the service's license agreement and privacy policy thoroughly before installing an application. You may even want to fill out registration forms with dummy information. Never share your email address with anyone you don't know.

Depending on the privacy policy of the game or gaming organization, your actions and the things that you say online may be logged. The company may store this information in an electronic archive, and they may be required to turn over portions of this archive to the government or law enforcement officials if asked.

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