Watch Out for that Online Poker Spyware

online poker trojanSome poker players downloading software looking for an edge have gotten the exact opposite result. There’s a new piece of spyware floating around that grants hackers access to victims’ hand information at online poker sites. This information is then transmitted to hackers who join the same poker tables and play a perfect game of poker knowing everything the victim holds.

The software has been detected attached to popular poker software such as Tournament Shark, Poker Calculator Pro, Smart Buddy and Poker Office. Presumably, the software itself is safe if downloaded from the official source. But if you’ve gone through other means to get your hands on expensive software, there’s a chance you’re a victim too.

The Trojan is known as Win32/Spy.Odlanor and it attaches itself to legitimate programs to sneak its way into victims’ machines. The news first made the rounds about a week ago and naturally caught the attention of the media. News reports make it sound like a big deal, but you can protect yourself with a few basic precautions.

The good news is this is not some sophisticated attack unique to online poker. From all reports, it’s a simple Trojan designed to take screenshots of Full Tilt Poker and PokerStars clients. Similar Trojans are used all the time in attacks against other industries. This one just happens to go after poker players.

Once the Trojan is installed, it searches specifically for Full Tilt Poker and PokerStars installations. If either client is running, the Trojan notes the player’s user ID and begins taking screenshots. The user ID is transmitted to the hacker who can then search for that player’s ID online and join the same table. Then, a constant supply of fresh screenshots is used to see what that player holds during every hand. This enables the hacker to play perfectly and fleece unsuspecting poker players.

Is this the end of online poker?

Not by a long shot. Anywhere we do business online, hackers pose a threat. Online poker is not unique in that respect. This is just a simple Trojan that attacks individuals and does not represent a threat to the security of the poker sites themselves. This is a personal security issue.

The real damage in this latest episode of the poker saga is how it provides more fodder for all the anti-poker types out there. Poker opponents can point to this and say “see, online poker is rigged and unsafe.” Even though they could say the exact same thing about online banking or a hundred other things we do online, the sentiment appeals to those unfamiliar with the skill aspect of poker.

In any case, the game will go on. Those who know poker is a game of skill realize that this was an unsophisticated virus attack that you would expect to see in any business. Those who are skeptical of online poker will feel like their suspicions have been validated and leave it at that. Misinformation is still a bigger problem for online poker than the occasional scumbag trying to Trojan his competition.

How to stay safe when you play online poker

There are four key things you can do to keep yourself safe.

One: don’t download programs from untrusted sources. If you don’t have the money to buy Poker Office or any other software from the developer, it’s best to wait and save the money than to find a torrent.

Two: Play poker on a separate computer used exclusively for poker. A physical barrier between your daily use computer and your poker computer will go a long way in preventing you from unwittingly downloading something nefarious. This isn’t the most feasible solution for players on a budget, but it is the single most effective way to keep your machine clean.

Three: Get a high quality antivirus program and keep it up to date. Antivirus software may not be perfect, but it helps. It doesn’t cost much and it adds easy protection.

Four: Always stick with safe poker sites that are backed by longstanding reputations. Established sites that are well-known have more incentive and more money to invest in keeping their games safe and fair. No poker site can protect you from yourself if you go and download a Trojan, but it’s still important to make sure you play at reputable sites that take security serious.