World of Spycraft? The NSA on World of Warcraft

Summary:It seems the NSA gets everywhere, including such popular multi-player online games as Blizzard's World of Warcraft.

He's making a list, and checking it twice; gonna find out who's naughty or nice. The NSA is coming to your game...So you'd better be good for goodness sake.

Did you ever wonder why Sneaky Pete the Orc Rogue in World of Warcraft kept asking you in the middle of a mission how you felt about international terrorism? Maybe it was because Pete was an especially annoying bot or maybe it was because he was working for the NSA.

Yes, I'm serious.

WoW
Believe it or not, the NSA and friends are with you on Blizzard's Game of Warcraft and other online games.

It turns out that besides listening to cell phone calls , watching your "secure" Web activities , and reading your e-mail , the NSA and friends have also been watching you play your massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPG).

According to the latest leaked NSA documents from Edward Snowden, US and British intelligence agencies — including the CIA, NSA and the UK’s Government Communications Headquarters — have been operating in virtual worlds and gaming communities both to spy and try to recruit informants since 2008.

Specifically, these intelligence organizations have targeted users on World of Warcraft (WoW), Second Life, and the XBox Live system. Why would they do such a thing? Because, they believe MMORPGs could be useful to terrorists in a variety of ways.  

The revealed document, Games: A Look at Emerging Trends, Uses, Threats, and Opportunities in Influence Activities — produced by SAIC, a military and security contractor — states that MMORPGs often "contain capabilities like VoIP, chat and file transfers that allow real-time communications to take place and few sites monitor such traffic."

Furthermore, "In-game communication channels would be difficult to collect by current (2008) control methods, because speech and text mingles with data from the game." Therefore, MMORPGs "are ideal locations to support secure terrorist communications because of [these factors] and the enormous scale on which they are played."

In addition, MMORPG gold farming, the conversion of game "currency" into real money, can be used by "terror groups to raise and distribute funds."

Thus, SAIC concluded that MMORPGs can be used to spread propaganda, provide for terrorist group communications, simulate real world terrorist activities, launder money and raise funds; and even recruit possible members. If the last seems like something of a stretch, keep in mind that there are games such as Hezbollah's Play and Resist and Special Force 2 that encourage would-be Palestinian fighters to attack virtual Israelis. And, on the flip side, there's America's Army, a US Army-promoted game, which encourages US teenagers to join the US Army.

So it is that the NSA has been "playing" games for the last few years. Whether they've found any real enemy action is a question yet to be answered.

Still, while the idea of the NSA, et al, spying on gamers may sounds silly at first, there actually are good reasons why they would do this. So, the next time you feel the urge to make some smart-aleck comment about terrorism in a online game, just keep in mind that you might get some very undesirable attention for it.

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Topics: Security, Networking, Social Enterprise

About

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols, aka sjvn, has been writing about technology and the business of technology since CP/M-80 was the cutting edge, PC operating system; 300bps was a fast Internet connection; WordStar was the state of the art word processor; and we liked it.His work has been published in everything from highly technical publications... Full Bio

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