Security experts sound alarm over 'free' Hogwarts Legacy downloads

Best to wait for the game to go on sale instead of risking your computer's integrity on 'cracked' versions.

Unless you want the Unforgiveable Spell cast on your computer, it'd be best to stir clear of cracked versions of Hogwarts Legacy. (Photo: Avalanche Software)
Unless you want the Unforgiveable Spell cast on your computer, it'd be best to stir clear of cracked versions of Hogwarts Legacy. (Photo: Avalanche Software)

Avalanche Software’s Hogwarts Legacy has been making waves even before its launch on 10 February, and its popularity has continued to rise among players since then.

However, because of the game’s hefty price tag, some players are turning to online sites in an attempt to download “cracked” versions of the game for free, and that has gotten security experts sounding the alarm.

Games that have been "cracked" are games in which digital rights management (DRM), technology meant to safeguard copyrighted information, has been bypassed. This way, players may access and play the games without having to fork out any cash to the titles' creators or distributors.

Unsurprisingly, online scammers are capitalising on the game’s popularity to take advantage of unsuspecting victims.

Security experts from Malwarebytes and Kaspersky have found some of these sites, and have been warning players interested to “save money” by downloading cracked files for the game are risking much more in the process.

“With such a huge fan base, the game has become a target for cybercriminals looking to cash in on the popularity of the world-famous tale,” said Kaspersky security expert Olga Svistunova.

“Our advice, as always, is to be alert and only download games from official app stores and don’t forget to use a trusted security solution.”

Easily accessible sites

According to another report, this time by by Malwarebytes, most of these games can easily be accessed through a simple web search.

Malware Intelligence Analyst Stefan Dasic also shared a couple of these types of websites.

One such site asks users for an activation key once they have downloaded the game. The would be player is then told to “verify” themselves through a survey to get one.

According to Dasic, this website uses a survey scam — which triggers when the user clicks the link, which leads to either a dead end or a questionnaire that asks for the user’s contact details. These survey scams have a file considered as a PUP (Potentially Unwanted Program).

Another domain seems to hold a file called Hogwarts Legacy Setup.exe, but it is actually a Trojan that has adware. According to Malwarebytes, the adware it contains are Trojan.Dropper and Adware.Agent.

Not only does this malware expose a user to a barrage of pop-up ads on dubious websites, but adware is also often employed as spyware to keep tabs on your device and harvest your personal information.

It's not uncommon for scammers to use game cracks as a gateway to infect users' computers with malware or adware.

Common with many popular titles

Hogwarts Legacy is, of course, not the first game used by scammers as a delivery tool for malicious programmes.

According to a report by Tom’s Guide, since 2018, cracked games containing “Cracknosh,” a coin-mining malware, have infected more than 200,000 Windows PCs, earning its creators a total of US$2 million in Monero cryptocurrency.

Cracked versions of Fallout 4: Game of the Year Edition, Far Cry 5, Grand Theft Auto V, NBA 2K19, Pro Evolution Soccer 2018, and The Sims 4 all have installers that allow the game to run just fine, but with a side serving of harm for your computer.

Beyond that, cracked games are illegal in many places around the world because they use file edits or other changes to make games that would normally have to be bought available for free download.

So if you want to keep your computer safe from these sorts of attacks but still want to save money, it’s probably better to wait for a sale on your favourite game like Hogwarts Legacy.

You'd still have to pay (unless it was a free game on Epic or something), but the losses you'd incur and the stress you’d feel from getting your PC infected otherwise will be well worth it.

Anna is a freelance writer and photographer. She is a gamer who loves RPGs and platformers, and is a League of Legends geek. She's also a food enthusiast who loves a good cup of black coffee.

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