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The darker reality of the make-believe gaming world

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Chaos recently erupted in Taiwan when a stampede of Pokémon Go players all rushed to catch a rare Pokémon called Snorlax. This huge, bipedal, dark blue-green Pokémon with a cream-colored face, belly, and feet caused quite a commotion when the players ran through the streets of Taipei.
Developed by Niantic for iOS and Android devices, it was released in July 2016 and players use their mobile device’s GPS to locate the roaming monsters, capture, and train them. Players can then put them in battle against other players. All appears on the screen as if Pokémon were in the same real-world location as the player.
Older generations will most likely remember the television series and playing Pokémon on the Nintendo Game boy, so the game comes with a certain sense of nostalgia.
But back to the current super popular app, which Niantec also supports with in-app purchases for additional in-game items. So, as you can imagine – there is a plethora of downloading happening on mobile phones worldwide. It’s a fun game, but unfortunately as all aspects in our digital world comes with security concerns.
“A Pokémon GO underground ‘black market’ has emerged that helps players advance in the game, if they are willing to pay for it. But the cost may be more than they bargained for,” says Simon McCullough, Channel Manager for Africa at F5 Networks, the global leader in Application Delivery Networking distributed in the regions by value-added distributor Networks Unlimited.
He points out that players must firstly be aware of the fact that many fake versions of the app have appeared online and any unsuspecting users who download these fake versions will be inevitably be sharing their private information with unknown sources. “Secondly, if you use the Pokémon GO ‘black market’ to advance your progress in the game you will have very little protection when buying items from this market. You will have no recourse against transactions that a seller may not potentially fulfill and, more importantly, you are handing over your payment information to an unknown entity who can either sell that data or use it themselves.”
McCullough adds that there is also the potential that hackers are using the fake versions to plant malware on people’s devices, which can then be used to steal information such as passwords and credit card details.
“User education is key. Use common sense and do not download any unofficial versions from third party websites, you should only download apps from the relevant app store. Also, do not use any ‘black markets’ to further your progress. You may succeed in the game but you’ll be setting yourself up for financial failure,” he says.
Although the game is light and fun, sadly hackers and cybercriminals have brought a darker reality to its make-believe.
“It is an unfortunate fact that cyber criminals are today on the constant lookout for ways to steal private information and money. They are persistent and continually finding new ways to obtain this information. The threat is real and is not limited to Pokémon GO. As individuals we need to minimise the amount of private information we store on our mobile devices and limit from where we download applications,” concludes McCullough.