The metaverse – the concept of an online virtual environment where participants can use avatars to interact and engage in activities – continues to expand. The metaverse encompasses gaming worlds, social virtual reality (VR) platforms, and online marketplaces. Users can engage in real-time interaction with other users, buy virtual goods and services, create metaverse content, and participate in other activities.
As developers continue to introduce new applications, functionality, and experiences, the metaverse brings the potential for positive experiences. But also introduces challenges, including virtual crime in which cybercriminals recreate real-world criminal acts.
Just as in the physical world, taking precautions to protect yourself from crime in the metaverse is essential.
This article explores strategies to ensure your safety and security while navigating this emerging digital landscape.
Types of Metaverse Crime
As virtual worlds become increasingly immersive, the emergence of virtual crimes like assault and theft raises concerns comparable to their physical counterparts. These incidents lend credence to the concept of virtual realism, which suggests that events within virtual reality can be as significant as those in the physical world.
Users’ growing attachment to their virtual identities adds complexity to this issue.
What forms of scams and crimes should you be aware of in the metaverse?
- Harassment and Abuse: Stalking, bullying, intimidation, and other forms of threats are common on the Internet. Users may post abusive or threatening messages, spread false information, or impersonate other people using fake accounts. The metaverse environment can escalate this behavior, as a malicious user has the ability to physically assault a victim’s avatar.
- Theft: Malicious actors can rob metaverse users of their virtual assets, such as cryptocurrencies, non-fungible tokens (NFTs), collectible items, land, and custom items. They could also hack into their accounts to steal personal information.
- Fraud: Cybercriminals can use fake identities or false information to commit fraud, including selling counterfeit virtual goods and services or impersonating other users. They can engage in phishing attacks, impersonating well-known users, influencers, or brands to gain trust so that a victim will click a link to a site that will steal their information, such as the private key for a crypto wallet. Cybercriminals can also deploy fake apps that steal user assets or data.
- Virtual Extortion: Criminals can intimidate other users, forcing them to give up digital assets or information.
- Money Laundering: Metaverse cryptocurrencies are commonly used in money laundering, as they are hard to track. Cybercriminals could launder money in the metaverse using cryptocurrency or NFTs.
- Identity Theft: A user’s digital identity in the metaverse is represented by their avatar, which they can use to make connections, access exclusive areas, buy land, trade, and hold cryptocurrencies and NFTs. This attracts malicious attackers to steal avatars to take their digital assets and access.
- Malware: Hackers can infect metaverse platforms or user devices with malware to steal a user’s virtual account or assets.
- Social Engineering: Cybercriminals can take advantage of the opportunities for social interaction in the metaverse to manipulate victims into a scam or reveal sensitive information.
It’s crucial to be aware of these types of metaverse crimes so that you can be prepared to protect yourself while engaging in metaverse activities.
Ways to Protect Yourself From Metaverse Crime
Keeping in mind the different forms of metaverse crime, there are several things you can do to safeguard your digital assets and avoid negative experiences.
Secure Your Accounts
Just as you protect your online accounts in the real world, make sure your metaverse accounts are secured with strong, unique passwords.
Enable two-factor authentication (2FA) whenever possible to add an extra layer of security. Avoid sharing your login credentials with anyone, and be wary of phishing attempts.
Protect Personal Information
Be cautious about sharing personal information with other users within the metaverse. The more information you disclose, the more vulnerable you become to identity theft or targeted attacks.
Limit the amount of personal data you include in your profiles.
Choose Reputable Platforms
When exploring the metaverse, we suggest you:
- Only use well-established and reputable platforms that prioritize user safety;
- Research apps and platforms thoroughly before creating accounts or engaging in activities;
- Run any links through a website that checks they are safe to avoid interacting with a malicious platform;
- Look for reviews, user feedback, and information about the platform’s security measures. For instance, the virtual world Decentraland has a code of ethics that all users must follow.
Be Cautious of Virtual Relationships
As in the real world, exercise caution when forming virtual relationships. While the metaverse can be a place to meet new people, some individuals may have malicious intentions.
Consider interacting with people you have met through trusted sources.
Report and Block
Most metaverse platforms provide tools to report and block users that engage in malicious behavior. Report any instances of cyberbullying, harassment, or any other form of inappropriate conduct to the platform’s administrators and block the offender.
This will not only protect you but will help to maintain a safe environment for other users.
Stay informed about the latest security trends and potential threats specific to the metaverse. In this way, you will be better equipped to recognize and respond to risks.
Keep Software Updated
Keep on top of updates for the software and applications you use to access the metaverse. These updates often include patches that address security vulnerabilities. Outdated software can leave you exposed to various cyberthreats.
Use Virtual Private Networks (VPNs)
Consider using a VPN to access metaverse applications. A VPN encrypts your internet connection, adding a layer of security that can make it harder for hackers to intercept your data.
Legal Implications of Metaverse Crime
Crimes that take place in the metaverse are serious as they can have real-world ramifications. The digital assets and data held in virtual environments often have actual value.
For example, cryptocurrencies, NFTs, and other digital assets in the metaverse can be converted into fiat currencies for use in the real world, and personal data can be misused to commit identity theft or fraud. Cyberbullying and assault in the metaverse can affect a person’s mental health and well-being.
Metaverse crimes can also affect the reputation of the apps and platforms used to access the virtual environment.
If you are a victim of crime in the metaverse, you should be aware that existing laws can apply. You should report abuse, harassment, fraud, or other forms of cybercrime to law enforcement authorities.
Some virtual environments also have their own regulations that govern how users interact with each other and any virtual assets. This can include restrictions on the types of content shared, certain behavior, and the use of virtual assets.
There can also be provisions for dispute resolution.
As adoption of the metaverse increases, and the way users engage in virtual environments evolves, it is likely that authorities will develop new laws and regulations specifically to address interactions in the metaverse virtual environments. This could include virtual identity verification, virtual property rights, and virtual taxation.
Law enforcement agencies around the world are introducing metaverse-focused initiatives to help them protect users. Some of the latest examples are:
- Interpol’s own virtual environment where officers can attend training and virtual meetings;
- Europol’s report, Policing in the Metaverse: What Law Enforcement Needs to Know, which details metaverse crimes, such as replicating or hijacking avatars, so that policing agencies can adapt their tactics.
The Botton Line
If you intend to participate in the metaverse, it is essential to be vigilant about the potential risks. By taking proactive measures to protect yourself from crime, you can have a safer and more secure virtual experience.
Make sure to secure your accounts, protect your personal information, choose platforms wisely, and stay informed about best practices for metaverse safety.
You will then be well-equipped to navigate this new digital environment with confidence.