NSA Infiltrated ‘World of Warcraft,’ ‘Second Life’ to Spy on Gamers
The National Security Agency (NSA) and Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) have infiltrated popular online communities such as “World of Warcraft” and “Second Life.”
The latest revelations from former NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden were published in the Guardian on Monday. A ‘top secret’ 2008 NSA document titled “Exploiting Terrorist Use of Games and Virtual Environments,” which was distributed among the intelligence agencies of the so-called ‘Five Eyes’– the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, states that:
We know that terrorists use many feature-rich Internet communications media for operational purposes such as email, VoIP, chat, proxies and web forums and it is highly likely they will be making wide use of the many communications features offered by Games and Virtual Environments (GVE) by 2010. The SIGINT (signals intelligence) Enterprise needs to begin taking action now to plan for collection, processing, presentation and analysis of these communications… GVEs offer a SIGINT/HUMINT (human intelligence) opportunity space and more research is needed to figure out effective exploitation.
To that end, the NSA has been spying on online gaming communities like “World of Warcraft”, a massive multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) set in a fantasy universe, and interactive environments such as “Second Life”, where users are immersed in a virtual world and can interact with each other through avatars.
The NSA believes that terrorists may use games and other virtual environments for training purposes. According to the leaked document:
These games offer realistic weapons training, … military operations and tactics, photorealistic land navigation and terrain familiarization, and leadership skills. While complete military training is best achieved in person, perfection is not always required to accomplish the mission. Some of the 9/11 pilots had never flown a real plane, they had only trained using Microsoft’s Flight Simulator. When the mission is expensive, risky or dangerous, it is often a wiser idea to exercise virtually, rather than really blow an operative up assembling a bomb or exposing a sleeper agent.
The document claims that al-Qaeda terrorists have been “associated” with Microsoft’s Xbox Live, “Second Life,” “World of Warcraft” and other GVEs, and that the Lebanon-based terror group Hezbollah “even hooked up a PlayStation controller to a laptop in order to guide some of its real missiles.”
It is not clear whether spying on gamers has thwarted any terrorist operations or yielded any useful intelligence. What is known is that many US intelligence operatives have infiltrated the virtual communities. According to the Guardian, “so many intelligence agents were conducting operations inside games that a ‘deconfliction’ group was required to ensure they weren’t spying on each other.”
Intelligence operatives were also excited by the “opportunity” to penetrate such “target-rich communications networks” with tens of millions of users and technological features like voice headsets, video cameras and other identifiers that could be used to track and monitor perceived potential threats.
The NSA has not commented on its gaming surveillance activities.
“World of Warcraft” creator Blizzard Entertainment claimed it was unaware of the government infiltration and spying.
“We are unaware of any surveillance taking place,” a company spokesman said. “If it was, it would have been done without our knowledge or permission.”
The NSA has come under intense scrutiny this year after Snowden began leaking documents proving it has been monitoring billions of phone and electronic communications records of Americans and foreigners, including those of many world leaders, corporations and even the Pope.
Three days ago, President Barack Obama once again defended NSA spying, insisting that the US must “keep eyes on some bad actors” even while claiming he’ll propose “some self-restraint” for the agency after he receives a report on its activities later this month.