Cyberthieves are making off with the virtual property of hardcore Internet gamers by exploiting their desire for fast and reliable connections to game servers.
Many popular online games require different sets of plugins -- small computer programs that interact with a main application to provide a specific function -- to run smoothly, and cyberthieves are embedding viruses in these programs to gain access to a user's personal information.
The problem has become so common that Hsinchu County police have taken to issuing public warnings to gamers that they should be aware their personal data can be leaked and used for criminal purposes if they download plugins from unreliable sources for online games.
As many hackers host their malicious plugins on IP addresses outside Taiwan, there is not much local police can do, given the difficulties of obtaining international assistance.
Some malicious plugins allow hackers to use Trojan-horse viruses to gather sensitive personal data, which is then sent back to the attacker.
Hackers often use game account information they have gathered from unsuspecting users to break into gamers' accounts and steal their "virtual treasures" -- virtual items have been collected over time, such as rare and powerful swords for a fantasy role-playing game.
Such items can sometimes be traded between players, and in the logic of the market, carry actual dollar values related to their rarity and usefulness.
In a widely reported case, a Chinese gamer murdered another over a virtual sword valued at US$870 in March last year, highlighting the seriousness with which gamers treat their virtual items.
A few days ago, a 13-year-old surnamed Liu (劉) in Hsinchu County's Hsiangshan Township (香山) reported a cybercrime to local police after discovering that his personal account and password had been stolen by attackers, who overnight removed his "virtual treasures," with an estimated market value of around NT$1,000.