What are the security and privacy risks associated with AR and VR?

What is augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR)?

While augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are linked, they are not synonymous. The term “augmented reality” refers to the process of enhancing or “augmenting” the current world by incorporating digital components—visual, aural, or sensory—into a real-world perspective. In recent years, one of the most well-known instances of augmented reality has been the popular game Pokémon Go.

By contrast, virtual reality develops its own cyber environment, rather than adding to the current one. Rather than seeing information on a screen, virtual reality is typically experienced via an interface, such as a headset or goggles.

Mixed reality (MR) is comparable to augmented reality (AR) but goes farther by displaying spatially aware and responsive 3D digital information. Users may interact with and control both physical and virtual objects and surroundings using MR—for instance, a simulated ball can bounce off a real table or wall.

Extended reality is a catch-all phrase encompassing virtual reality, augmented reality, and mixed reality (XR). Each year, the worldwide market for XR hardware, software, and services expands. However, the fast advancement of these technologies has left some customers concerned about privacy and security implications.

Concerns about augmented reality’s security and privacy

One of the most significant anticipated risks associated with augmented reality is privacy. The privacy of a user is jeopardized since augmented reality technology may observe what the user is doing. AR gathers a tremendous amount of information on its users and their activities—much more than social media networks or other kinds of technology do. This generates several issues and inquiries:

  • If hackers get access to a device, the ramifications for privacy are enormous.
  • How do augmented reality businesses utilize and protect the data they get from users?
  • Where do businesses keep their augmented reality data—on-device or in the cloud? Is the data encrypted if it is transmitted to the cloud?
  • Do augmented reality businesses share this information with other parties? If they do, how do they use it?

Untrustworthy content

While augmented reality browsers assist with the process, the content is generated and supplied by third-party businesses and apps. This raises concerns about unreliability since augmented reality is a relatively new area and methods for verifying material creation and transmission are constantly developing. Sophisticated hackers may replace a user’s AR with their own, deceiving or giving false information.

Numerous cyber risks may render information untrustworthy even if the source is legitimate. Spoofing, snooping, and data manipulation are all examples of this.

Social engineering

Given the possibility for content to be unreliable, augmented reality systems may be a useful weapon for deception during social engineering assaults. For instance, hackers may manipulate users’ perceptions of reality by creating fictitious signs or displays to coerce them into doing activities beneficial to the hackers.


Through advertising, hackers may inject harmful information into apps. Unsuspecting users may click on advertisements that direct them to hostage websites or malware-infected augmented reality servers that display inaccurate images, compromising the security of augmented reality.

Taking credentials from a network

Criminals may steal network credentials from Android-based wearable devices. Hacking may be a cyber danger for businesses that utilize augmented reality and virtual reality shopping applications. Many consumers’ credit card information and mobile payment methods are already stored in their user accounts. Due to the seamless nature of mobile payments, hackers may acquire access to them and quietly drain accounts.

Denial of service

Another possibility for an AR security assault is a denial of service attack. One scenario could include users who depend on augmented reality for work being abruptly disconnected from the information stream they are getting. This is particularly worrisome for professionals who rely on technology to perform duties in high-stakes circumstances when a lack of knowledge may have fatal repercussions. A surgeon, for example, could suddenly lose access to critical real-time information on their augmented reality glasses, or a motorist would lose sight of the road when their augmented reality windshield transforms into a blank screen.

Man-in-the-middle attacks

Attackers on the network may monitor communications between augmented reality browsers and augmented reality providers, AR channel owners, and third-party servers. This increases the risk of man-in-the-middle attacks.


Hackers may gain access to a user’s augmented reality device and capture their behavior and interactions in an augmented reality environment. They may then threaten to publicize these recordings unless the user pays a ransom. This may be humiliating or upsetting for those who do not want their gaming and other augmented reality activities to be made public.

Physical damage

Physical damage is one of the most serious AR security concerns for wearing AR systems. While some wearables are more robust than others, all gadgets are susceptible to physical damage. Maintaining their functionality and security—for example, by not allowing someone to walk away with an easily lost or stolen headset—is a critical element of safety.

Dangers and security concerns associated with virtual reality

Virtual reality security risks are distinct from those associated with augmented reality since VR is confined to enclosed settings and does not include interactions with the actual physical world. Regardless, VR headsets completely obscure the user’s view, which may be hazardous if the gadget is hacked. For instance, they may alter information in such a manner that the consumer feels dizzy or nauseated.

As with augmented reality, privacy is a significant issue with virtual reality. A critical aspect of virtual reality privacy is the extremely personal nature of the data gathered—specifically, biometric data such as iris or retina scans, fingerprints and handprints, facial geometry, and voiceprints. Several examples include the following:

  • Finger tracking: In the virtual world, a user may utilize hand gestures, in the same manner as they would in the actual world—for example, by typing the code on a virtual keypad with their fingers. This, however, requires the system to capture and send finger tracking data showing fingers entering a PIN. If an attacker obtains this information, he or she will be able to replicate the user’s PIN.
  • Eye-tracking: Some virtual reality and augmented reality headsets may also incorporate eye-tracking. This data may be of added use to hostile actors. Knowing exactly what a user is looking at may provide an attacker with vital knowledge—which they can use to replicate human actions.

Anonymizing VR and AR tracking data is extremely difficult due to individuals’ unique movement patterns. Researchers identified individuals with a high degree of accuracy using behavioral and biological data gathered from VR headgear—posing a serious issue if VR systems are hijacked.

As with zip codes, IP addresses, and voiceprints, virtual reality and augmented reality tracking data should be regarded as potentially “personally identifiable information” (PII). It qualifies as PII since it may be used by third parties to determine or trace an individual’s identity, either alone or in combination with other personal or identifiable information. As a result, privacy in virtual reality is a major issue.


Additionally, attackers may introduce features into virtual reality platforms with the intent of duping users into disclosing personal information. As with augmented reality, this opens the door to ransomware assaults, in which bad actors damage systems before demanding a ransom.

Fake identities or Deepfakes

Machine-learning algorithms enable the manipulation of sounds and films to the point where they seem to be real. If a hacker gains access to a VR headset’s motion-tracking data, they may exploit it to build a digital copy (referred to as a “deepfake”) and so compromise VR security. They may then superimpose this on another person’s virtual reality experience to launch a social engineering assault.

Apart from cybersecurity concerns, one of the primary risks associated with virtual reality is that it isolates a user’s visual and aural link to the outside world. It is always critical to begin by assessing the physical safety and security of the user’s surroundings. This is also true for augmented reality, as users must maintain a high level of awareness of their surroundings, much more so in more immersive settings.

Other issues with VR that detractors sometimes refer to as virtual reality downsides include the following:

  • Additions are possible.
  • Health consequences—such as dizziness, nausea, or spatial disorientation (after extended use of VR).
  • Human connection is lost.

Examples of AR and VR

The applications of augmented, virtual, and mixed reality are increasing. They include the following:

  • Gaming — from first-person shooters to strategy games to role-playing adventures, gaming has something for everyone. The most popular augmented reality game is undoubtedly Pokémon Go.
  • Professional sports — for the development of training regimens that benefit both professional and amateur athletes.
  • Virtual travel — for example, virtual visits to places such as zoos, safari parks, and art museums—without ever leaving the house.
  • Healthcare — to enable medical practitioners to train using surgical simulators, for example.
  • Film and television — to enhance the experience of films and television programs.

Additionally, the technology is utilized in more severe areas. For instance, the US Army utilizes it to digitally improve military training missions, while police in China use it to identify suspects.

Concerns about Oculus privacy

Oculus is one of the most well-known virtual reality headset manufacturers and one of just a few firms that actively supports large-scale VR game creation. Facebook bought the business in 2014, and in 2020, Facebook stated that future virtual reality headsets would need Facebook logins. This development prompted a contentious debate regarding Oculus’s privacy policies.

Critics of the decision expressed worry about how Facebook gathers, keeps, and utilizes data, as well as the possibility of more ad targeting, as well as being compelled to use a service that some may not have wanted to use in the first place. The revelation sparked a surge of online postings from privacy-conscious customers concerned about Oculus security who said they would stop using their Oculus headsets—even though critics thought it was unlikely to have a long-term negative impact on Oculus.

How to be safe while using virtual reality and augmented reality systems

Avoid disclosing information that is too personal

Avoid disclosing any information that is too personal or unnecessary. One way is to create an account using your email address, but avoid using your credit card until you are making an explicit purchase.

Review privacy policies

It’s all too easy to brush aside extensive data privacy rules and terms and conditions. However, it is important to learn how the businesses behind augmented and virtual reality platforms keep and use your data. For instance, are they disclosing your information to other parties? What sort of information do they share and collect?

Utilize a VPN

Using a VPN service is one way to keep your identity and data secret when surfing the web. If you are required to reveal sensitive information, utilizing a VPN may help prevent that information from being compromised. Advanced encryption and a changed IP address operate in tandem to safeguard your identity and data. With advancements in augmented and virtual reality, the VPN model is expected to grow within these technological realities.

Keep firmware up to date

It is critical to keep your VR headsets and augmented reality devices’ firmware updated. Along with introducing new features and enhancing current ones, updates assist in patching security vulnerabilities.

Use comprehensive antivirus software

By and large, the most effective method of staying secure online is to use a proactive cybersecurity solution. This includes Heimdal Security, which offers comprehensive protection against a variety of online dangers. Viruses, malware, ransomware, spyware, phishing, and other developing internet security concerns.

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