The Virtual & Real Cybersecurity Threats In The Metaverse 

For as long as science fiction has coexisted with modern media, so too has the concept of embracing a virtual world. Initially written about in Laurence Manning’s work in 1933 as well as popular films including Tron and Ready Player One, we have always looked to create an immersive virtual world where humans can engage in a wide range of activities. 

Coined by many as the metaverse, this is a virtual reality space, whereby users are able to interact with each other in a computer-generated environment. It looks to embrace augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) with a plethora of devices that can support this dream. Yet recently, we have also been examining how a virtual world can benefit businesses. 

The Business Of The Metaverse

In October of last year, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg introduced Meta, with the aim to restructure the company and its aims to focus on the metaverse. Since then, we have seen billions poured into this market, from virtual fashion shows, fully-immersive gaming and the expansion of the crypto metaverse. A recent study from McKinsey found that metaverse-related investments and spending is set to hit $5 trillion by 2030. 

Everyone who has heard of, or engaged with the metaverse has their own vision of what it could be. An open platform to experience films and video games like never before, a fully digital adventure for the modern classroom or a way to more deeply engage with co-workers around the world. 

And while of course many believe its success will hinge on the quality of the virtual world and the real-time usage of the devices, in fact, its security will become the real tell-all as to its global adoption. 

How The Metaverse Dream Can Turn Into A Nightmare

The metaverse, as it stands, is still incredibly ill-defined. Some see it as a way to converge both business and consumer interests. Others see it as a decentralised platform, free from any regulation or business intervention.

Regardless of what one wants it to be, we are coming to realise the dangers lurking with the metaverse, with growing concerns surrounding privacy, user safety and security. The unfamiliar nature of this technology and its novelty means that we are yet to have a standard set of security protocols when entering the metaverse. 

Additionally, fears surrounding the safety of IoT devices required to enter the metaverse are also a problem. A recent threat report found that 2022 saw a 77% increase in global IoT malware, putting those using VR headsets at risk of exploitation by cybercriminals. So the businesses and consumers who wish to enter the metaverse must ask themselves, what cybersecurity precautions can be taken to ensure it is a sustainable platform for all going forward?

Securing The Metaverse

Without additional protection, companies, and more importantly their customers, will be immediately susceptible to massive cyberattacks. One of the most immediate ways of protecting the metaverse is to ensure that all designers and manufacturers adhere to unified cybersecurity protocols for their devices and services. 

The physical vulnerabilities of the metaverse are the most obvious and to trust the metaverse, we must be able to trust metaverse accessories. Questions will be raised surrounding the physical and digital identities of the metaverse, as well as perimeter implications. Rising IoT malware attacks are the most obvious case in point of this. Security is of increasing concern when it becomes physical to the user, and consumers must be assured that the headgear and other physical devices they will use to access the metaverse are secure. 

Certain fears of the metaverse are the same as we’ve always had when it comes to the network itself. The metaverse is still fundamentally a network, akin to the internet, meaning that traditional dangers of sharing a network with millions of others will continue. Internet fears have now become metaverse fears. A strong and secure wireless network is a must as the network will increase in size and therefore widen the attack surface for potential cyberattacks. It is crucial that businesses are able to secure their network, using wireless technology that is designed for IoT and high-density deployments.

Much of the coverage surrounding the metaverse tends to focus on the obscure, the odd or the embarrassing. While calls for it to be labelled a disaster and a failure are premature, it highlights an important point. The future of the metaverse as a usable interactive environment for all is only doomed if we do not secure it. 

Spencer Starkey is VP Channel Sales EMEA at SonicWall

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