NSA infiltrates online fantasy world, that much closer to our imagination

December 9, 2013

The NSA and its UK-equivilent GCHQ have been spying on the virtual worlds of World of Warcraft and Second Life.

The agencies collect gamer communication and even deploy agents in online games, according to The Guardian.

In another leak courtesy of Edward Snowden, the NSA designated the games as potential terrorist communication networks in their 2008 paper “Exploiting Terrorist Use of Games & Virtual Environments [GVEs]”.

The documents, obtained by the Guardian and released to the New York Times and ProPublica, highlight online communication networks to be “exploited” by the NSA, such as private chat, group chat, and XboxLive!. The document also links certain games to “realistic military training”.

As the New York Times notes, the NSA’s concern may not be unwarranted, as “militants often rely on features common to video games — fake identities, voice and text chats, a way to conduct financial transactions”.

Yet the documents also demonstrate a frighteningly reactionary response; an NSA analyst exclaims that GVEs are “an opportunity! We can use games for: CNE exploits, social network analysis, HUMINT targeting, ID tracking (photos, doc IDs), shaping activities, geo-location of target…,” yet the agency also had to create a “deconfliction” group to ensure that the multiple agents weren’t spying on each other, an action the NYT’s says demonstrates that the agency “may have inflated the threat”.

More than anything, the documents highlight the complete lack of online privacy. They do not detail to what extent gamers are monitored or how the agencies are conducting their activities, but, while there is no evidence they are illegally hacking into these games, neither the NSA nor the GCHQ gained permission from World of Warcraft’s developer Blizzard Entertainment, which announced in both The Guardian and NYT articles that any surveillance, “would have been done without [their] knowledge or permission”.

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