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Are You Safe in Virtual Reality Land?

by Beth Divine 27 Mar 2018

You would think that using virtual reality is a good way to get the best of both worlds – you get to explore and experience new things, but you can’t get hurt ‘for real’, and if your computer self falls or is injured all you need to do is go back to your last save and go from there, a little wiser and more cautious than before. Surely, there is no way that you can get hurt while playing games or watching movies in the safety of your own home?

Well, yes, you can. Sorry. Of course, it is extremely rare, but there are ways that you can be harassed and even assaulted via an online connection.

Cyber bullying is no new thing, with many children and young adults having been provoked into violence, either against others or against themselves and some of these have had a fatal ending. Your internet connection could be hacked, and an online stalker could target you.

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While this is also a problem for anyone who uses a computer, it can be worse with a virtual reality attack as you are mentally more immersed in the virtual world, and disengaging from issues in cyberspace and finding that they have followed your home, so to speak, can be very mentally stressful.

With virtual reality equipment, especially full body suits, a talented hacker can actually physically harm you by taking over the controls in your equipment… It does not take much imagination to see how upsetting and injurious this could be, especially if the suit is one set up for – ahem – full body immersion in virtual reality…

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But these possibilities are worst case scenarios, they are highly unlikely to happen – but if they do, make sure you report any incidents to your local police and insist on an investigation – more and more police forces are getting very computer savvy and they can now take action whereas before there simply wasn’t a legal framework for them to work within.

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But you can help yourself in other ways. Avoid confrontations with strangers on the internet. It can be very tempting to snap out an insulting retort to a comment, but if you wouldn’t do it in person, don’t do it online. Inhibitions are lowered with a computer screen and keyboard as intermediary, but the desire to lash out should be repressed. Always respond politely, even if firmly and in the negative, and you are unlikely to attract the attention of malicious hackers. (NB: this does not mean that if you are being stalked or harassed that you must have earned it somehow – criminals behave criminally and there is no amount of mannerly behaviour that will stop it, all that being polite will do is minimise your risk, not eradicate it altogether!) If you do end up in an online situation where you become uncomfortable or you are being attacked through your computer – something as simple as having your disc drive open without your input can be very scary – unplug your router immediately. Killing the internet access in your home (be aware of mobile phone connections, Mi-Fi and other connections that might not use the router) is a good way to reclaim the haven that your home should be!

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Once you are certain that you have reclaimed your cyber control, you can slowly bring up internet connections, but make sure that you change your passwords and, if unsure, speak to your service provider about making your network safe from outside access.

So, in short, yes, you can get hurt for real by using virtual reality equipment. But this is in much the same way that you can get struck by lightning – it is unlikely to happen, and steps can be taken to improve your odds of surviving unscathed! For the most part, you will be safe and sound, able to use your virtual reality equipment without fear of attack or molestation – enjoy!