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Gaming Safely on Mobile – 3 Tips

5 October, 2016 Gaming

"Little android figurines" (CC BY 2.0) by Family O'Abé


While Pokémon Go might have added a new risk factor to online gaming - physical injury - app store safety traditionally revolves around viruses, micro-transactions, and adware. Here are three quick tips for stress-free gaming this autumn.


1. Stay Away from Third Party Stores


Here's a strange fact about smartphones: mobile malware is a growth industry. In the twelve months between 2014 and 2015, the number of malicious programs attacking smartphones jumped nearly 200%. However, the number of viruses, worms, and other nasties hidden in the Play and App stores remained close to zero.


So, how does malware get onto mobile phones in the first place? Viruses and their ilk are a non-issue for the majority of smartphone users; the threat only arises when people try to download apps from third party stores, especially those physically located in the Middle East. In some places, your infection rate can be as high as 1 in 3.


A good example occurred shortly before the release of Pokémon Go, when a malware-infested app called Guide for Pokémon Go appeared on third-party app stores. It was downloaded half a million times before anybody noticed that it was up to no good.


Apple and Google's vetting systems aren't infallible - there's at least one story of an app with no functionality at all becoming a five-star app on the Play Store - but at least the odds aren't stacked against you in the official stores.


2. Permissions are Everything


You might not have realised but every app on your phone has your explicit permission to do certain things. For example, Facebook and Instagram can both access your camera; Pokémon Go can find out your precise location, and Gmail can view your phone's calendar. Apps need these permissions to function.


However, you should always try to ‘connect the dots' before giving a new app VIP access to your phone. For example, Facebook needs to ‘talk' to your camera every time you try to take a photograph from within the app and Pokémon Go uses your location to determine your proximity to monsters; that makes sense. Ask yourself if that calculator app you've just downloaded really needs access to your text messages.


You should also be wary of imposter apps, especially anti-virus tools (Symantec has removed fake ‘Norton Anti-virus' apps from the Play Store in the past), as these can be used by criminals to scam you. Using the above example of the calculator app - a favourite trick is to send thousands of automatic text messages to premium rate numbers, landing you with the bill.


3. Take Care with Online Gaming Apps


Having access to casino games on the go is one of the benefits of smartphone gaming but it's important to find a trustworthy operator, especially if you intend to play cash games. Closing the app and visiting the company's website with your browser is an easy way to determine the legitimacy of a gambling firm, as most casinos have their credentials on the homepage. The Betway app, for example, is regulated by the Belgian Gaming Commission, as well as other bodies such as the European Sports Security Association.


The same goes for apps with micro-transactions. Reports indicate that micro-transactions - small payments for extra lives, in-game currency, or other luxuries - make up 79% of all mobile developer income. They're an easy way to make money from otherwise ‘free' apps and they're not going away.


Ensure that all payments you make on a mobile platform go through the Play Store or the App Store, as the two companies have various safeguards in place to prevent fraud, and you may be able to get a refund if the app doesn't work as expected or somebody else uses your account to buy things. Apple and Google won't share your payment details with the company who created the app.


One final point - you can learn a lot about a mobile game, from compatibility and user experience to the number of micro-transactions, by reading the customer reviews on the two app stores before downloading the app to your phone. It sounds cynical but somebody else's bad luck might just save you from installing a fraudulent or malicious app.

 


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