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Year after year, mobile games have proven themselves as the most lucrative business in the mobile app economy. In 2022, mobile games generated close to US$92.5 billion in revenue, accounting for more than half of the entire gaming industry. However, this continued rise in popularity is also accompanied by an increased risk of security threats, including cheaters, copycats, repackaged games, and revenue loss. Mobile app security can help ensure your game integrity by protecting and monitoring your Android and iOS game apps.
Threat actors take advantage of unprotected mobile games for many reasons. From wanting to have the upper hand in a competitive game to illegally making easy money, one thing they all have in common is that they pose direct and indirect harm to your game and business.
Pirated apps have long riddled the mobile app economy, and the lack of proper protection has only added fuel to the fire. A 2018 report, showed that 95% of premium Android app installs are pirated. It was estimated that piracy had caused $17.5 billion of lost revenue in just over five years. Of the top 10 premium apps being hit hardest by pirates, 8 of them are mobile games, with the top one losing approximately US$76M. The report also shows that 92% of the top 100 most pirated apps are free to download, highlighting that this problem impacts all applications, regardless of their monetization model.
Despite common misconceptions, this is equally true for Apple's "walled garden" as it is for Android. Take the case of Monument Valley as an example, the widely popular US$3.99 single-player isometric puzzle game’s developer infamously shared that only 5% of installs on Android and 40% on iOS were paid downloads.
Threat actors will often modify these games to produce alternative versions for their benefit: from removing in-game advertisements, unlocking premium features (e.g., items, skins, characters, currencies), and even adding extra features or content not available in the original game (e.g., new maps, cheats). They will then sell it or make it available for free on pirate stores, such as apkmody and iOSGods. The lost advertisement and in-app purchase revenue will impact your bottom line. You can learn more about app modding, its impacts, and how to mitigate them here.Guilty by association
More maliciously, some threat actors would use these pirated, modded, and repackaged games as a platform to execute many other activities, such as phishing attacks, spying on users, or using them as launchpads for malware attacks. Although game developers and publishers may not be legally liable for any harm to the users of these modded apps, they will still damage your brand. For instance, the media attention resulting from the public disclosure of possible data harvesting done through modded apps will cause significant harm to the integrity of the game and the brand.
As mobile devices become more powerful, developers have been able to develop multiplayer mobile games with graphics and visual effects that are on par with PC and console games. This, and its highly engaging and interactive nature, has made the genre increasingly popular over the years. This trend is especially true for APAC, gaming’s largest market. Unfortunately, and unsurprisingly, cheating problems have also accompanied this steady increase. The wildly popular battle royale game Player’s Unknown Battleground (PUBG) Mobile, for example, bans hundreds of thousands to millions of cheaters weekly.
Players can cheat by leveraging a modded app downloaded through a pirate store or using an off-the-shelf game tampering product (e.g., Game Guardian, Cheat Engine.) If this problem is left unaddressed, these cheaters would gain an unfair advantage over legitimate players, frustrating them and undermining the community's health. If left untreated, these cheating issues could kill a game by ruining other players’ experience, causing them to leave the game altogether.
Guardsquare’s code protection solutions, DexGuard and iXGuard for Android and iOS games, respectively, offer built-in features for Unity-based mobile games enabling you to optimize the performance and security aspects of your games. These tools provide multiple layers of protection, including code hardening and runtime application self-protection (RASP). Additionally, our polymorphic protection approach will automatically change the app’s security measures in your code with each release, making it virtually impossible for threat actors to build upon the knowledge they acquired from their previous attack attempts.
This layered approach deters would-be cheat makers from reverse engineering and repackaging your mobile application while simultaneously preventing cheaters from being able to cheat by hiding your mobile game data and preventing memory scanning.
Guardsquare’s real-time threat monitoring solution can help make your anti-cheat strategy more actionable by providing insights into the different types of security incidents your mobile games face. ThreatCast can detect different threat types such as cheating attempts, debugging and hooking tools, repackaging attempts, escalation of privilege, emulators, virtual environments, and many more - increasing your confidence in identifying and banning cheaters in your game. Additionally, these insights are extremely useful in helping you determine if you need to adjust your release frequency and strengthen your code protection in your subsequent releases. ThreatCast is available for free for the first application for all DexGuard and iXGuard customers.
Guardsquare’s solutions are leveraged by multiple AAA mobile game studios protecting some of the most popular mobile game titles. With more than 900 customers worldwide, our industry-leading solutions are trusted by world-renowned companies across financial services, medical & healthcare, retail, and eCommerce industries. Get connected with one of our experts now to explore how Guardsquare can help protect your game and business integrity.