How Safe is the Metaverse? – Part I

How Safe is the Metaverse? – Part I

Part I: The concerns

The metaverse will transform most aspects of our experiences, but monitoring it is proving to be a challenge and it just cannot possibly be considered safe:

The metaverse has emerged as the next frontier to target, and it is here to stay. Developers are already hooked to the idea. Big Tech companies are plunging into metaverse projects like never before. This includes names like Google, Meta, Microsoft, Apple, NVIDIA, Amazon, Tencent, and Snapchat among others. Metaverse property prices rose by 700% in 2021 alone. We are sure to see more companies investing in the developing side of the metaverse – both hardware and software.

A prime concern

The metaverse will transform most aspects of our experiences, including social relationships, education, online commerce, entertainment, gaming, and – work. But a crucial question remains unanswered as yet: How safe is the metaverse?

This question has already been debated at some length in the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting held at Davos in May this year – and the unanimous resolution was that we need to make the metaverse safe for everyone. If the metaverse is an inevitability, then it is our moral obligation to build one that is safe, private and secure.

Mark Read, Chief Executive Officer at WPP – the British multinational communications, advertising and public relations firm that is currently regarded as the world’s largest advertising company – pointed out in his Davos address that the young were especially at risk:

“We need a metaverse for good, especially where children are concerned. Gaming apps like Roblox and Fortnite, and virtual reality headsets, have created the gateway to a virtual environment that is now playing host to millions of people each day, with participation very heavily skewed towards children and young people. … … It is all happening fast, without clear codes of behaviour or ethics in place.

Children are in front of more games across more devices for longer – partly because of the pandemic. They are witnessing wide-ranging behaviour (including abuse if they are not monitored). And monitoring itself is becoming so much more of a challenge. All this is taking place within the context of a teen mental health crisis.”

Why the concern?

The metaverse will have access to our most private information and habits. As people begin to live in these virtual worlds, the metaverse will be able to learn a lot about us, others, and things we would barely consider today. And, as we all know such information can be extremely risky to be left unguarded in the digital world. Cybercriminals are eternally in search of opportunities that new technologies bring. Naturally, the metaverse is not going to be an exception. Indeed, the metaverse has so many unknowns that it just cannot possibly be considered safe, by any standards. 

As such, the internet is already fraught with misinformation, toxicity, and complications around unfair censorship. There are early indications that the metaverse is already facing these challenges. However, it also holds a promise for a more decentralized architecture of the web, which could help to mitigate some of these issues.

One of the biggest risks will be data security and privacy. In the metaverse, the bulk of transactions are fulfilled through artificial and virtual reality systems, creating a nexus point of data that is ripe for targeting. Data collection alone is cause for significant concern – and that would include all sensitive user data: like biometric, behavioural, financial, medical, individual profile and any other personal information that a user might float on the virtual platform at any point in time.

The weak links in the system

Experts are anticipating that the following could be the major weak links where metaverse security is concerned: 

  • Social engineering: This could involve loss of data and access – leading to major economic impact.
  • Blockchain security: The integration of blockchain can be an area of concern. The network, identification, validation, and supporting DNS structures are areas through which a breach might happen. 
  • Data privacy: This is a major issue in the virtual world and may be caused through data collection, data retention, and information sharing procedures. 
  • Digital boundaries: This is one tricky area, complicated by the fact that the metaverse falls under no jurisdictions. 
  • User identity: Concerns centre round a user’s digital self or avatar – a virtual, visual representation. Such an identity is always questionable until you can confirm the actual credentials of the person behind the avatar – but revealing one’s real identity could be harmful for that person. This is, in fact a double-edged sword!

[To be concluded]

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