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Is the Metaverse Risky Business?

5 minute read

The TL;DR answer to this question is “It depends?” Not a very satisfying answer, but the reality is it’s complicated. Despite the term’s long(ish) history, the non-sci-fi version of the Metaverse is still a concept transforming from into a fully developed reality. Converging a variety of technologies to create immersive virtual environments where people can seamlessly work, play, and conduct their day-to-day lives – at least that’s the idea that’s been growing in popularity. And although this all-encompassing vision does not yet exist, there are people building very real technologies, aiming to create the Metaverse.

But what does that mean now? For a comprehensive overview of the Metaverse, we put together a detailed report that explores current Metaverse players and emerging trends, key technological components, and of course, potential security risks. It’s a fascinating not-yet-100%-real world, and as such, there’s a lot of speculation and prediction around what’s ahead. Here, however, it’s worth covering examples of security threats – both online and virtual – that we have observed and that will likely continue to challenge innovators and adopters in this space.

Certain influential verticals can provide a baseline for how emerging threats might evolve—such as those directed at gaming, finance, and tech—though they are unlikely to fully represent the potential for all new vulnerabilities. Nonetheless, ZeroFox Intelligence expects tried-and-trusted attack methods to persist for the foreseeable future.

The Metaverse Framework

In short, there isn’t one. While there are different interpretations of how the Metaverse will be structured, there are certain components and technologies that can be building blocks, including:

  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Blockchain 
  • Computing & Networks 
  • Hardware
  • Interoperability 
  • Virtual platforms
Image representation of the components of the Metaverse.

Risks Associated with the Metaverse 

Traditional security threats—both cyber and physical—are likely to be accompanied by fresh challenges, in part due to what will likely have an unprecedented attack surface. New technologies and unregulated digital assets will also introduce a number of data privacy and intellectual property risks. 

The ZeroFox Intelligence report details security risk examples in depth but here, I’ve highlighted four risks to look out for across technologies:

Phishing, Malware, and Ransomware 

Unfortunately the Metaverse won’t be immune to phishing, malware, and ransomware. Phishing scams already exist within the Web3 domain, which relies upon a decentralized data structure with blockchain and AI as a foundation. Further, these methods are primarily executed via traditional social engineering techniques to target credentials or install malware. 

However, some attacks are specific to the decentralized nature of Web3 and exploit vulnerabilities within the blockchain. Crypto wallets, exchanges, and smart contracts, which will be relied upon in the Metaverse, are among those regularly targeted by threat actors, posing a significant risk for anyone wishing to access and interact with decentralized platforms. 

Regarding ransomware, threat actors might attempt to deny the use of a participant’s avatar or digital assets in exchange for a ransom payment— particularly if those assets are found to be of significant real-world value. 

Distributed Denial of Service Attacks (DDoS)

Threat actors will almost certainly target the Metaverse with DDoS attacks to overwhelm virtual environments with the aim of knocking them offline. 

The proliferation of IoT devices—which are largely lacking in security measures—continues to offer an increased attack surface and contribute to a growing number of botnets that are responsible for orchestrating record-breaking DDoS attacks.

Physical Security

Physical security remains a very real threat. It is imperative that organizations seek to maintain the physical safety of their people. While ZeroFox offers Physical Security Intelligence to provide real-time intelligence on threats that impact the safety of your people, there will be a physical security risk in the Metaverse that will need to be mitigated. Despite the virtual essence of the Metaverse, physical security threats are already prevalent within online environments. Reporting shows that sexual harassment and stalking are among some of the personal security issues faced by Metaverse participants.

Brands will largely be responsible for their own consumer safety within the Metaverse and must discover ways to mitigate the risks. Some of the main players are already implementing solutions to emerging user safety risks. For example, Meta recently introduced new “safe zones” into its virtual platforms to protect users’ personal space after multiple harassment claims.

Brand and Intellectual Property

Brands will certainly look to capitalize on the Metaverse, and many have already begun filing digital trademarks. That said, the Metaverse may be difficult to regulate, including determining which rights belong to which stakeholder. As a result, brand and intellectual property disputes will almost certainly feature within the Metaverse. Some cases already exist (such as Nike’s lawsuit against StockX) and are increasing due to the growing number of brands and companies entering what is currently an ambiguous arena.

Proactively Mitigating Risks in the Metaverse 

The Metaverse, which is no longer science fiction and not quite reality, is rapidly evolving. While it has the potential to create much positive change, we must remember that where there’s opportunity, there is opportunity for exploitation. Threat actors will use the virtual world, adapting to what is most advantageous, targeting both individuals and organizations. It’s important to think about the role the Metaverse will play in your business now and how you will guard against bad actors as this world develops.

We only scratch the surface of explaining the Metaverse and its potential risks. Be sure to review the entire study here to get your Metaverse journey started on the right foot.

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