Minecraft is addicting. Minecraft is popular. That combination means there are a lot of us playing the game for hours on end every single day. While that’s good for the Minecraft community at large, it’s also good for hackers. They don’t see millions of Minecraft players: They see millions of targets for malware.
As reported by BleepingComputer, Kaspersky security researchers discovered that Minecraft accounts for a whopping 25% of the malware spread through PC video games. That’s more than double the next leading game, FIFA, as it represents only 11% of gaming malware traffic. Other “winners” include Roblox at 9.5%, Far Cry at 9.4%, and Call of Duty with 9%, but there are plenty of other games that bad actors treat as malware pipelines.
While the vast majority of this malware is spread from PC gaming, of the malware spread through mobile gaming, Minecraft is still on top, with 40% of the share. Yikes.
Most of these malicious Minecraft cases result in downloaders on your computer. Downloaders often sneak past security software, then install nasty malware such as info-stealers or cryptocurrency miners onto your machine. However, adware (which delivers users malicious ads) and trojans (malware that pretends to be legitimate software) are also in the mix, which can steal your personal information or grant bad actors access to your computer.
How to avoid malware from Minecraft and other games
It isn’t risky simply playing these games. As long as you bought the game from a reliable market, and play as intended, you won’t need to worry about malware any more than you would playing on a Nintendo Switch or PlayStation. However, the risk comes from diving into a game’s more underground components, namely mods, cheats, and pirating.
The first tip here is this: Don’t pirate games. Ethics aside, bad actors use players’ desires to game for free against them, offering fake versions of popular games. You’re putting yourself at risk to download a “free” version of a game that everyone is playing, since there is so much incentive for a bad actor to put malware in its place.
Pirated games also enable bad actors to create fake in-app stores. Since so many games these days utilize in-app purchase, many players think nothing of buying items and upgrades through these markets. However, these fake in-app stores offer no real products in return. Instead, they steal your information, and use it to make purchases on your behalf. In short, again, don’t pirate games.
Be extremely careful installing mods. Mods are a great way to enhance your game on PC, and there are some fantastic developers out there doing great work. However, because mods and other game cheats are not supported by the game developers, there is no regulation or oversight to them. That environment makes it all too easy for bad actors to advertise their product as a legitimate mod, only to install malware onto your machine.
The sites these mods are hosted on can be malicious, too. Even if the link is valid, the site may be full of ads or false download links. You think you’re clicking the right download button, but, in fact, that option downloads something nefarious, or takes you to a new, malicious URL.
When installing mods, try to stick the ones with high download rates and good reviews. It can be risky to download that brand new mod from an unknown developer, when there’s no one to back up its legitimacy. If a modder asks you to disable your antivirus software in order to run their program, don’t. While some modders run into issues with antivirus software, this scheme allows malicious users to bypass your security systems. Don’t do it.
Don’t forget to keep both your computer and your games up to date with the latest software patches, too. These updates can help protect against security vulnerabilities.
How to tell if your PC already has malware
Sure, these tips are helpful for avoiding gaming malware in the future, but what about any malware you might’ve picked up in the past? Could your PC be harboring fugitive software at this very moment?
Take note of any weird symptoms your computer is experiencing. Is something causing your computer to run hot, even when no programs are visibly running? Maybe your computer is running slow out of the blue. Are strange links opening in your web browser, or are myserteous pop-ups overrunning your desktop?
If so, the best thing to do is run a program that scans for known malware, such as Malwarebytes. This app will look for any malware on your PC, identify it, and help you remove it for good. It’s a good idea to regularly scan for viruses and malware, especially on a PC, to make sure nothing nefarious sneaks through the gate.
If you want to see if your computer’s issue are based on third-party software (and, therefore, potentially a malware problem), you could boot into safe mode, which runs only Microsoft programs. There are a variety of ways to boot into safe mode, in both Windows 10 and Windows 11, as you can see from this Microsoft support page.
You can also scan your computer yourself to look for any strange files you didn’t mean to download. This strategy can be tricky, though, since system files can often look intimidating or odd. If you see anything obviously scary, like minecrafttrojan.exe, delete it yourself.