Spies infiltrate online games, gather user data

US and British spies have been keeping an eye on the virtual worlds of World of WarCraft, Second Life and Xbox Live for signs of treachery, skulduggery, terrorism, and general unpatriotic nonsense, according to a report on NY Times.

According to classified documents leaked by former NSA contractor, Edward Snowden, and in the hands of NY Times, the surveillance gathered data on potentially millions of players active in these games.

Spies were trying to discern if ne’er-do-wells were plotting their attacks and money laundering while in the unassuming guise of a level 1 Gnome.

Like any good spooks, the operatives went into deep cover, themselves becoming embroiled in the complex socio-political machinations of these intimidating online universes. Characters were created and the spies tried to recruit informers and stoolies, while also gathering data on the content of communications between players.

Jokes aside, it’s apparently a big concern for the world-police types, with the NSA warning in 2008 that online video games could potentially be a “target-rich communication network” due to their ostensibly anonymous and unmonitored nature, giving suspects a way to “hide in plain sight”.

Ironically, like any good game of international espionage, things soon became confusing. The malaise of CIA, FBI, and Pentagon spies all levelling up their WoW tanks and DPS for epic raids and crafting virtual goods in Second Life soon needed a “deconfliction” group so everyone could keep tabs on friends and foes. The documents also allude that the various intelligence agencies may have inflated the threat.

This all sounds like a brilliant excuse to play games at work to me, or perhaps the CIA is laundering their dirty South American drug money through WoW gold exchanges.

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The NY Times reports that none of the documents list any counter-terrorism successes, and former intelligence officials and game development companies have seen little evidence that terrorists viewed the Icecrown Citadel as the perfect spot to plan a strike at the heart of the capitalist infidels.

“We are unaware of any surveillance taking place. If it was, it would have been done without our knowledge or permission,” said a spokesman for Blizzard Entertainment, developer of World of Warcraft.

Microsoft, and Second Life developer Linden Lab declined to comment. UK and US intelligence agencies – GCHQ and NSA respectively – declined to comment.

As a footnote, while the intelligence agencies weren’t finding any spawned instances of terrorist activity, they were identifying potential guild recruits in the form of engineers, embassy drivers, scientists, and other foreign intelligence operatives who were all gaming in the virtual worlds and could become agents.

So, who’s getting a Kinect?

Source: NY Times

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