Spy Agencies Targeted Online Games

December 10, 2013

World of Warcraft Gelbin MekkatorqueAmerican and UK spy agencies reportedly infiltrated online gaming platforms such as Xbox Live and World of Warcraft, according to leaks from whistle-blower Edward Snowden. Documents obtained by The Guardian, in partnership with The New York Times and Propublica, revealed that the American National Security and the British Government Communications Headquarters were monitoring activity on Xbox Live and had deployed agents into MMOs such as World of Warcraft and Second Life to serveil in-game talk channels.

In a 2008 NSA document titled ‘Exploiting Terrorist Use of Games & Virtual Environment’, the agency believed that these online services and games could potentially harbour intelligence targets, describing these worlds as a “target-rich communications network” and “an opportunity!” In a memo, the GCHQ noted that it had “successfully been able to get the discussions between different game players on Xbox Live.” None of the documents described any successful counter-terrorism outcomes.

Peter W. Singer, director at the Brookings Institute and author of Cybersecurity and Cyberwar: What Everyone Needs to Know, told Propublica that games “are built and operated by companies looking to make money, so the players’ identity and activity is tracked…For terror groups looking to keep their communications secret, there are far more effective and easier ways to do so than putting on a troll avatar.”

The efforts spawned from a brown-bag lunch held at the NSA by Cory Ondrejka, then chief technology officer for Linden Labs, Second Life’s developer. The address gave an opportunity for Ondrejka to explain how Second Life could allow the government ”the opportunity to understand the motivation, context and consequent behaviours of non-Americans through observation, without leaving US soil.” An invite noted that ”terrorists use online games – but perhaps not for their amusement. They are suspected of using them to communicate secretly and to transfer funds.”

A spokesperson from WoW developers Blizzard Entertainment told The Guardian, “We are unaware of any surveillance taking place…If it was, it would have been done without our knowledge or permission.” A Microsoft spokesperson echoed a similar sentiment to Polygon, “We’re not aware of any surveillance activity. If it has occurred as reported, it certainly wasn’t done with our consent.” Philip Rosedale, Second Life founder, declined to comment, as did the NSA. A GCHQ spokesperson told The Guardian that the agency would neither confirm nor deny the claims, adding that “All GCHQ’s work is carried out in accordance with a strict legal and policy framework”

 

Source: The Guardian

[Image credit: Blizzard]

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