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The Tricky Way Some Steam Users Are Spreading Viruses

Gamers have a new malware threat to be mindful of, one that can pass through Valve's Steam platform and be shared from user to user, all without ever alerting the individual spreading the harmful code.

As reported by G Data, a company that offers data security solutions and regularly publishes alerts for new cyber threats, the new virus was apparently first noted by a programmer on Twitter, @Miltinh0c. The programmer shared a couple of images, one of suspect code and another of a meme posted to a Steam profile, which serves as the delivery system for the virus. Hidden in a portion of the image file called the ICC profile, which typically assigns color values when sending information to a printer, is an encrypted piece of malware.

While sneaking malicious code onto user's computers by hiding it inside of images is not a new practice, according to G Data, this may be the first time that an online gaming service such as Steam was used as the delivery method. The news of this novel form of virus distribution is especially concerning when one considers the fact that the annual Steam Sale is right around the corner, which will likely drive more traffic to the platform than usual.

Although there is a risk of interacting with the virus through the platform, this does not mean that gamers need to uninstall Steam to be safe. Here is what gamers should know about this new virus spreading through the platform.

The SteamHide malware needs to meet certain conditions

It is important to recognize that the new virus, labeled SteamHide by G Data, exists entirely within the image and does not interact with Steam itself. To be at risk, users need to interact with the photo outside of simply scrolling past it on Steam. They need to either download the image or open it in an external image viewer.

G Data also notes that the code hidden in the image is not executable, which means that alone, it shouldn't be able to extract itself and infect a computer. That would require a second piece of malware delivered either through separate images on Steam or from more traditional virus distribution sources, such as spam emails and infected websites.

So if the malware can't do anything without accessing a more dangerous component through sketchier practices, why distribute it through Steam at all? While it's hard to know the mind of a hacker, it is likely because Steam is both a gaming platform and a community meeting point that has been breaking user records. By including the code in memes, hackers likely hope that gamers will share the images on the platform and spread them to other users.

Finally, G Data notes that "this method appears to be under development and has not yet seen active use on a broader scale," which may mean that the distribution of executable malware may come later. Either way, as long gamers practice relatively safe internet security practices, it sounds like they should be fine.