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The metaverse promises to provide an environment for people to meet, interact, and collaborate in a way that mimics real life.
In fact, Mark Zuckerberg once went so far as to suggest it might reach a point where people leave reality behind to enter an entirely new world in the metaverse.
It’s clear there are big plans for the metaverse to become a place where people can work, play, and interact with one another. Over the next few years, we’ll likely see more industries getting to grips with the metaverse and taking advantage of what it has to offer.
The public sector should be no exception. From delivering services digitally to using the space for training and simulations, potential uses for the metaverse are vast, and it will be up to governments to decide how best to take advantage of the platform.
But what about the risks?
As with everything, there are going to be risks involved. As the metaverse is a virtual space, it’s vulnerable to many of the cyber risks existing in other online environments.
Alongside the usual risks of hacking, phishing, and malware, the metaverse also introduces some unique risks. Users will likely be targeted for cyberattacks based on their activities and experiences within the metaverse. For example, there could be attacks designed to steal virtual currency or property—or even disrupt the running of the metaverse itself.
User privacy will also be at risk of being violated. Due to the virtual nature of the metaverse, it’s possible users will be less aware of how their personal information can be gathered and used without their consent or knowledge. This might include information such as browsing habits, location, and other data capable of being used for targeted advertising or other purposes.
This risk is no different within public services. As citizens are the users, there is a risk of someone’s account being hacked or even identity theft.
Is identity theft something to be worried about?
Though it may be relatively uncommon, criminals may use the metaverse to steal users’ identities.
In the extreme case of identity theft, there’s a huge amount of accompanying risk. Criminals might open new accounts under the victim’s name—including credit card or bank accounts then used to make purchases or withdraw money—and they may apply for loans and leave the victim with a damaged credit score, among other things.
On top of this, they could easily use the victim’s personal information to commit crimes ranging from fraud to espionage.
Identity theft is going to become a risk of the metaverse, so it’s essential for individuals to proactively protect their personal information. Remaining vigilant is key to identifying early signs of theft.
It’s a virtual world
Although this may seem like an obvious thing to point out, it’s important to remember the metaverse is virtual, and concepts existing within the metaverse will also be virtual.
You can own virtual territory, art, and so on in the metaverse. These goods are paid for with cryptocurrencies, and though money lost through credit card scams usually gets reimbursed, this isn’t likely to happen in a virtual space with currencies such as Monero or Ethereum. When it’s gone, it’s gone—there’s rarely a trail to follow.
The metaverse is comprised of open and closed systems—open metaverse environments are usually democratised among the user base, and closed metaverse environments are under the control of a centralised company or organisation.
Both systems invite people to stay within these bubble environments. These environments will be prone to propaganda, and users will need to stay aware of this as they navigate these spaces.
Being cautious will be key
It’s clear the metaverse is continually presenting new opportunities for individuals, organisations, and the public sector—however, challenges walk hand in hand with these opportunities.
Users should remain aware of the potential risks associated with using the metaverse and take care to protect themselves and any virtual assets they have. On a basic level, users should avoid suspicious links and virtual elements, use strong passwords, and remain careful about what personal information they share in the metaverse.
One thing is obvious to me: regular citizens aren’t going to be the first to enter and use the metaverse. Crime is already going to be there and waiting for us, and we need to protect ourselves.