We are witnessing the dawn of a new age of digital exploration. Although the metaverse may just be a buzzword now, it is a concept that is gaining heavy traction. Assuming widespread adoption, it will transform how humans interact with each other in a significant way. However, this new medium, in which people can connect online in enhanced ways, can open up new attack surfaces for cybercriminals.
In this article, we will discuss the challenges of securing the metaverse and how cybersecurity vulnerabilities in the metaverse compare to those encountered by current internet users. We’ll explore the importance of individual responsibility in regards to cybersecurity and cyber resiliency and how education and prevention can prevent falling prey to hackers.
What is the metaverse?
The term “metaverse” was coined in the mid-1990’s by science fiction author Neal Stephenson. However, the word metaverse was given its current popular definition by Facebook. The company announced recently that its internationally recognized company name would be changed to Meta. This decision was made in order to reflect their current focus on becoming a key player in the metaverse.
Facebook plays a large role in connecting people online, but the concept of a metaverse goes far beyond a Facebook group or Facetime call. The metaverse enables companies to create “digital twins” that can use data and algorithms to influence decisions made by executives in real life.
The metaverse is defined as a digital world that combines virtual and augmented reality. Individuals will navigate this online world – which can be identical to the real world or based on imagination, or some combination of both – by using digital avatars. Digital avatars and virtual reality headsets give a deeper glimpse into users’ real lives than anything that could have been expressed in social media. The intimate nature of the metaverse and the data it creates will provide ample opportunities for cybercriminals.
The mantle of the metaverse
New and exciting technology is often introduced with cybersecurity solutions offered in hindsight. In the future, developers must not only learn how to code, but they must also remain cognizant of the importance of cybersecurity measures as they create new applications. However, as it stands currently, new technology often comes with security as an afterthought.
Some of the cybersecurity challenges with this new tech will be similar to what we are already familiar with on the internet. The continued rise of cybercrime over the past 18 months has revealed just how lucrative it can be to hack into a company or an individual’s online accounts.
However, along with the normal phishing, malware, and hacking we are familiar with, the metaverse will likely bring entirely new cyber crimes because of its infrastructure. The metaverse is heavily centered on the use of cryptocurrencies and non-fungible tokens (NFTS), which can be attractive targets for cybercriminals for a variety of reasons.
For example, the famous art dealer Sotheby’s recently introduced a Sotheby’s Metaverse, which auctions curated selections of NFTS which are authenticated via a process called minting. Art pieces are verified and digitally tracked by being placed in the public ledger of the blockchain via Ethereum. However, just like in the real art world, collectors can easily be duped by replicas that are minted by cybercriminals poised as legitimate authenticators.
Furthermore, Ethereum transactions can be susceptible to fraudsters squatting on .eth websites under another company’s name. Like domain spoofing, cybercriminals can lean on the recognizability of established businesses to create fake Ethereum domain names and smart contracts. Transactions are only as secure as the entity enforcing them, and on the internet, it can be hard to tell who exactly you are dealing with.
In the metaverse, hurting a company isn’t as simple as leaving a negative online review or breaking the glass behind the counter to steal an item. With multiple layers of augmented or virtual reality hiding the true identity of attackers, legal recourse is difficult or impossible for victims of theft or harassment.
Challenges of securing the metaverse
Another issue with the metaverse is its dependence on hardware in order to experience the platform. The metaverse is centered on external digital devices such as virtual reality headsets that can easily fall prey to hackers if left unprotected.
Data captured through these headsets, or any of the other wearable devices that will certainly be introduced in the future, can be very sensitive in nature. Data that falls into the wrong hands can easily be turned into blackmail threats or fuel for a social engineering plot from a cyber criminal. Furthermore, intellectual property can be harder to protect when people and companies are not only living lives in the real world but also in the metaverse.
Unfortunately, politicians sometimes lag behind in addressing technology concerns. Laws rarely reflect the rapidly changing ways in which people interact with each other online. Consider the fact that the average age of a US Senator is 64 years old. Much of the technology shaping the world around us today is very foreign to the generation of people making laws for the country. This partly explains why cybercrime remains so attractive today.
Unfortunately, new technology is often developed and introduced to the market long before cybersecurity concerns are addressed. When consumers started to realize that cutting-edge IoT devices such as smart assistants, smart home security systems, fitness trackers, etc. had minimal cybersecurity protections built-in, laws had to pivot to protect these consumers. However, it wasn’t until 2021 that Congress introduced a security bill that introduced cybersecurity standards for IoT devices sold on the market.
How do we keep crime out of the metaverse?
There is no one answer to the question of how to make the metaverse a safer place. Like the internet, there will likely always be a certain level of anonymity that will protect criminals. This can allow them to get away with behaviors such as theft, cyberstalking, doxxing, and online harassment with impunity.
Increased regulation of the internet is a possibility. However, the internet remains one of the last frontiers of free speech and information. Widespread control of the internet by governmental bodies in the future is as unlikely as it is unethical.
Education and prevention remain the best way for people and businesses to stay secure on the internet and, in the future, the metaverse. Understanding the risks inherent in online activity, and deploying the right cybersecurity resources to protect yourself and your organization is key to remaining cyber resilient in this new age.
Note: This blog article was written by a guest contributor for the purpose of offering a wider variety of content for our readers. The opinions expressed in this guest author article are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect those of GlobalSign.