Will Streaming Platforms Advance Gaming Security to a New Level?

Game developers represent some of today’s most passionate artists who toil—sometimes in their basements ’til the wee hours of the morn—to create a complex work of art that infuses story, sound and visuals to both engage and challenge the players.

They bring life to the words of Shakespeare, who said in his play, “As You Like It,” “All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts.”

Unfortunately, game developers don’t often play the part of security team. They don’t always think about securing the code they create. Across all sectors, the tale of security and DevOps has long been filled with sound and fury, as developers are focused more on getting the product to market. 

But when security isn’t part of the development life cycle, protecting against cybersecurity threats depends largely on user behavior. This is true for PC games, where gamers download a product locally and run the game, which has an online component that is connecting to a server, explained Lida Tang, technical director, The Deep End Games.

“That produces a lot of issues because the user is downloading software and trusting the security of the software, which may not be secure. With network play, other people are connecting to your server, which is less secure than a browser,” Tang said.

In fact, a recently published report, “Game Over: The Future of Gaming Security,” found that 75 percent of PC gamers said security is what concerns them most about the future of gaming. The report also found that the concerns are not unwarranted: Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of respondents said they or someone they know has been directly affected by a cyberattack.

“We found that gamers are most certainly concerned about cybersecurity; however, they tend to engage in poor security habits,” said Gary Davis, chief consumer security evangelist at McAfee, in a press release. “As PC gaming continues to grow in popularity, it’s important for gamers to take steps to help keep their device and personal information protected.”

Perhaps, though, it’s PC gaming that poses the security risks—or, at least, annoying glitches in the code. To address the issues of latency and scale, Google unveiled at the 2019 Game Developers Conference its vision for a streaming platform, Stadia, which Phil Harrison, VP of Google, said represents the future of games where the worlds of watching and playing games converge.

Putting software onto the Google data center means developers have to think about security less, which, according to Tang, is another win. “Most developers are not super security-conscious. That’s why there are a lot of security problems that can happen in their software.”

Getting Past the Glitching and Grinding

Getting stuck in a wall is a real glitch, which can lead to frustration for a player who’s been grinding her way through battle. Enter the streaming platform.

I started working on streaming platforms eight years ago and made the first streaming app for iPhone called ‘Cloud Browse,’” Tang said.  “In general, streaming platforms make things much more secure for the end user machines, but raise additional security concerns for the platform. Overall streaming is a win for developers since the onus is on the platform provider—and not the developer—to make their systems secure.

“With Google Stadia, there is no software that you are installing anywhere. All the different games you are playing are now on the Google servers. That’s great because your data is no longer exposed,” Tang said.

A streaming platform that brings everything and everyone together in this one place mitigates the risks of vendors who have their own security issues. “The software with security issues becomes harder to hack because no one has access to the software that’s in the Google data center,” Tang said.

In addition, streaming platforms make it so that hacking and cheating would be a lot harder for people to pull off. “Cheating is more rampant in the gaming world, which ruins the game playing experience,” Tang said. When a gamer is playing on a PC and tries to cheat, the PC is typically running a software that changes how it performs on other people’s machines so that the player can give himself better weapons. With Stadia, though, the PC is no longer running the game.

A Vision FTW!

The announcement has created quite a buzz, which has also left a lot of questions unanswered. Despite the keynote reveal, Google has remained rather tight-lipped about any specifics on the platform. 

The reality is that streaming platforms offer both security advantages and trade-offs, according to Jessica Marie, product management at Vera. “Theoretically, streaming could let more of the complex code sit in the cloud, verses on players’ endpoint devices, so this model could help reduce the endpoint attack surface and centralize rapid, real-time patching of any issues discovered—right in the cloud.”

This model was demonstrated in the keynote, where Harrison showed that with one click, a player is able to experience the game in a browser with no downloads, no update, no patch and no install.

While it seems magical, there are inherent risks regardless of how games are delivered. “Internet history proves that anytime a platform becomes popular and begins hosting commerce, it starts to receive attention from actors who will try to profit from this via fraud, malware and other cybercrime activity,” said Marie.  “Even if it’s just someone creating malicious, knock-off copies of games or clever phishing schemes. Authenticating player logins, securing accounts, spotting potential fraud activity and policing community behavior will remain industry priorities for the foreseeable future.”

Yet, monitoring community behavior is reportedly a top security priority for Stadia. In an interview with Eurogamer’s Richard Leadbetter, Harrison said, “We have very robust approaches to community moderation … you can be assured we will have best-in-class parental controls and digital gamer wellbeing controls that will allow parents to manage what their kids play, who they play with and when they play.”

In the game developer world, Stadia has made many a headline, and it’s likely that many gaming developers agree with The Deep End Games, who are excited about the impact streaming services such as Stadia will bring, particularly as it fits in well with their next project on how people will consume games in the future.

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Kacy Zurkus

Kacy Zurkus

Kacy Zurkus is a cybersecurity and InfoSec freelance writer who has contributed to several publications including Medium, CSO Online, The Parallax, InfoSec Magazine and K12 Tech Decisions. She covers a variety of security and risk topics. She has also self-published a memoir, "Finding My Way Home: A Memoir about Life, Love, and Family" under the pseudonym "C.K. O'Neil." Zurkus has nearly 20 years experience as a high school teacher on English and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Lesley University (2011). She earned a Master's in Education from University of Massachusetts (1999) and a BA in English from Regis College (1996). In addition, she's also spoken on a range of cybersecurity topics at conferences and universities, including SecureWorld Denver and the University of Southern California.

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