World of Spycraft? The NSA on World of Warcraft

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.

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.

Related Stories:

Topics: Security, Networking, Social Enterprise

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Makes sense that the NSA would be there

    checking for "chatter" (as they call it) about real world places and events. I suppose Trecky events with people speaking Klingon or the shorter "Clipped Klingon" might also be on that list, as well.
    • I don't have ability to express my hatred...

      ...toward American imperialism and arrogance. So better to stay just in Linux and FLOSS, avoid Google/Microsoft/Apple ecosystem.

      World has a problem and the problem is called The United States Of America.
      Napoleon XIV
      • my bet is that the NSA shares info with your government

        After all, there are so many secret treaties around the world, that only one government need do the dirty work.

        My bet is that every government on the planet that the US wants to share data with gets the information, and that would be most governments.

        Always find it amazing how people blame one group for all of their problems when the real issues are in their own back garden. Smacks of a certain group gaining popularity in Germany about 1936. . . . . . . .
  • NSA, Barrens chat...

    Kind of makes sense now.
  • The return of American McCarthyism on an insidious global scale

  • World of Warcraft (WoW), Second Life, and the XBox Live system.

    Thank god I decided those 3 online communities are nothing but junk and don't use them.
    • norman no friends

      Says what?
  • This is the dumbest thing ever

    Can you imagine how many false positives they pick up? The guys screaming "Leroy Jenkins!!! Death to the elves of Borzag-Dur!!!" are actually 16 year old nerds... not terrorists.
  • Raid chats can be difficult to track without full access to chat servers

    Why would NSA use agents as avatars or players to spy for terrorist activity, it is known that all raid chats from serious guilds are very private and only Blizzard can get full access to the log conversation, it's not like general chats where you can join and listen to general public chat.

    Just like old irc channels, some guilds are very elitist and it requires a lot of time and dedication to reach level to craft heroic weapons (highest Inventory level).

    So maybe these agents really played these games more than 4 hours, 5 days a week during periods greater than 6 months to achieve this.
    Gabriel Hernandez

    This explains the influx of terrible players who suck at everything.
    Thanks for ruining my battlegrounds, you AFK jackasses!
  • Probably just an excuse for play time

    can you imagine how upset the public would be if they knew how much time the NSA freaks are spending playing WOW? Perhaps this is their own cover story for their own play time.

    Just can't trust anyone in the spy business, now can you?
  • makes me want to go back to WoW

    I feel especially motivated to PvP all of a sudden
  • FYI . . .

    Noticed the Cataclysm image - FYI, we're up to Mists of Pandaria now, with Warlords of Draenor coming soon.

    Interesting, but to be honest that was probably a fad.

    From the date of the document, it looks like it was created while MMOs and and virtual worlds were exploding in popularity, and tech people seriously thought that things like Second Life were the way of the future. Everything would be done in a virtual world, or so they thought.

    But, like many tech predictions, it became a fad. I don't think anybody's really entertaining the idea of Second Life being the way of the future anymore. I wouldn't be surprised if that particular project got shelved.

    And I seriously doubt they found any real terrorist action in an MMO or virtual world. They don't really seem to be the type to play video games.
    • Pointless

      Not being any sort of expert, but I would think real criminals would simply use dedicated encrypted channels. Blizzard might be monitoring all chat channels (text) using automatic tools to check for EULA violations. They definitely save all chat logs to deal with abuse complaints. On the other hand WoW could be an easy way to "hang out" with your "terrorist" buddies. That said, there would be no way to infiltrate private groups without support from Blizzard. Infiltrate WoW? WTF? That's like saying they infiltrated Amsterdam by renting a room, listening to local news, and hanging out on the Dam. It's a joke.