In our second monthly Insight, our AVG Viruslab Research Group has uncovered the sheer amount of malware prevalent in file sharing sites, which often visited by eager gamers, intent on, well, gaming the system to get shortcuts that can save a lot of time and effort in progressing their character in their game of choice.

And while this may appear a niche attack, the actual scale of the market is far bigger than you may realise.

While most of us probably know of the explosion of online gaming over the past few years, we are perhaps unaware of the dollar size of the market. Five of the top multiplayer games alone: World of Warcraft, League of Legends, Runescape, World of Tanks and Minecraft, are played by more than 330 million people worldwide and are part of a multi-billion-dollar industry.

Make no mistake, software and online gaming is big business. In the US, for example, research suggests gamers now spend an average of US $127 on gaming every year and of course, popularity means potential returns for cybercriminals, as the AVG Virus Lab Research Group discovered this month.

Some gamers are keen to circumvent the hours required to develop your character and enhance your in-game prospects and are therefore in search of game hacks such as patches, cheats and trainers that are available online, usually found on unregulated torrent or file-sharing sites.

Our Virus Lab Research Group found that within the majority of these downloadable files on these sharing sites there lurk small chunks of executable malicious code or malware designed to pry, steal and disrupt.

In fact, in the investigation by our team they found it to be as high as 90% in some sites. So gamers need to be aware that they are putting themselves at risk.

Next time you are sick of grinding on Azeroth and thought about downloading gold hacks to save time or if you’ve been tempted to download the latest title from a torrent or file sharing site to save money, think again.  You could well be playing right into the hands of the cybercriminals and that could be more costly in terms of time and money than you think.

To see more on this story, including the investigation of our AVG Viruslab Research Group and tips how to game safely and what to do if your machine gets infected, see the full release here.