Freshly leaked documents by former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden on Monday revealed spies disguised as fantasy characters prowled online games hunting terrorists.
Elves, orcs or other fictional characters happened upon by players in the popular realm of World of Warcraft may have been US and British spies, according to documents released through ProPublica, the Guardian, and the New York Times.
There were also indications that intelligence agents went undercover in online multi-player shooter games, particularly on Microsoft’s Xbox Live Internet community for players.
“GVEs (games and virtual environments) are an opportunity!” concluded ‘top secret’ National Security Agency documents dating back about five years.
“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 use of the many communications features offered by games and virtual environments.”
The report depicted online game worlds as private meeting places that could be used by groups for planning and training.
Examples used to back the reasoning included an “America’s Army” shooter game made by the US military and given away as a free download at its recruiting website.
“The game is so good at identifying candidates that it is now used for training,” the document said.
It went on to tell of Hezbollah creating a shooter game for recruitment and training, with the ultimate goal of play being to be a suicide martyr.
“While complete military training is best achieved in person, complete perfection is not always required to accomplish the mission,” the report argued, noting that some 9/11 attackers were taught piloting with flight simulation software.
Spies have created characters in fantasy worlds of Second Life and World of Warcraft to carry out surveillance, recruit informers and collect data, The New York Times said
“It wasn’t enough that they were snooping on email conversations; able to tap phone calls; weaken encryption standards; use sophisticated hacking techniques to install spyware on targeted computers… they needed to extend their range to Middle Earth and Xbox Live as well,” computer security specialist and author Graham Cluley said in a blog post reacting to the news.
“How about all these people playing ‘Draw Something’ who might be doodling secret messages to fellow criminals or conspirators?” he added facetiously.
Microsoft and WoW maker Blizzard Entertainment released independent statements saying they knew nothing of spies snooping in their online worlds.
The report came as eight leading US-based technology companies called on Washington to overhaul its surveillance laws following months of revelations of online eavesdropping from the former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor.
“Fearing that terrorist or criminal networks could use the games to communicate secretly, move money or plot attacks, the documents show, intelligence operatives have entered terrain populated by digital avatars that include elves, gnomes and supermodels,” the Times said.
It added: “Because militants often rely on features common to video games — fake identities, voice and text chats, a way to conduct financial transactions — American and British intelligence agencies worried that they might be operating there, according to the papers.”
The documents do not give any examples of success from the initiative, the report said.
Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Twitter, Yahoo, AOL and LinkedIn meanwhile wrote an open letter to President Barack Obama and the US Congress calling on Washington to lead the way in a worldwide reform of state-sponsored spying.
“We understand that governments have a duty to protect their citizens. But this summer’s revelations highlighted the urgent need to reform government surveillance practices worldwide,” the letter said.
Sources: Washington (AFP)
US and UK ‘spy on virtual games like World of Warcraft’
US and British spies have reportedly infiltrated online games such as World of Warcraft in an effort to identify terrorist threats, according to media report.
The undercover agents reportedly operated in virtual universes to observe messaging and payment systems.
The NSA allegedly warned that such online games could allow intelligence targets to hide in plain sight.
Virtual universe games draw millions of players from around the globe.
News of the operation was broken by the New York Times, the Guardian and ProPublica on Monday using leaked confidential government information obtained by whistleblower Edward Snowden.
The media reports allege US and UK spies spent years investigating online games including Second Life for potential terrorist activity.
One leaked document published by the New York Times claims such video games could be used for recruitment or to conduct virtual weapons training.
‘Without our knowledge’
The NSA is said to have extracted World of Warcraft account data and attempted to link it to Islamic extremism and arms deals, according to the Guardian.
The popular online fantasy game, which at one point boasted upwards of 12 million subscribers, has reportedly attracted users such as embassy employees, scientists and military and intelligence officials.
At one point during the investigation, so many national security agents were reportedly playing video games that a “deconfliction” group was created to ensure they were not inadvertently spying on one another.
However, the documents obtained by former NSA contractor Mr Snowden and cited by the media did not specify if any terrorist plots had been foiled by the effort.
A spokesman for World of Warcraft’s parent company Blizzard Entertainment told the Guardian they were not aware any surveillance had been conducted.
“If it was, it would have been done without our knowledge or permission,” the spokesman said. – BBC
American and British spies posed as ‘orcs and elves’ on World of Warcraft to infiltrate terror cells according to new NSA revelations
- Latest revelations from Edward Snowden reveal the NSA has been using agents to pose as players on World of Warcraft
- Up to 50 million people worldwide play the popular virtual game
- NSA and Britain’s GCHQ became concerned the game and those like it could be used as clandestine forums for terrorists to plan attacks
- Online operatives even tried to recruit gamers as informants
- More evidence of mass surveillance on civilian population by intelligence service
By James Nye
The NSA document, written in 2008 and titled Exploiting Terrorist Use of Games & Virtual Environments expresses the NSA’s worry that despite their wide-reaching PRISM clandestine surveillance of hundreds of millions of people online, terrorists could evade their wide reaching snooping.
The Guardian has reported that QCHQ, the British counterpart of the NSA even sent operatives into Second Life in 2008 and infiltrated a criminal ring that was selling stolen credit card information in that virtual world.
The Snowden files reveal that the real-life sting in a virtual world was named Operation Galician and was helped by a recruited online informer who ‘helpfully volunteered on the target group’s latest activities.’
Citing the documents disclosed by Edward Snowden, the report also says agencies ‘have built mass-collection capabilities’ against Microsoft’s Xbox Live online network.
Important details — such as how much data was gathered, or how many players’ information was compromised — were not clear, the reports said.
Blizzard Entertainment, the producer of World Of Warcraft, told the Guardian: ‘We are unaware of any surveillance taking place. If it was, it would have been done without our knowledge or permission.’
Online games such as World of Warcraft and Second Life are huge business as players adopt avatars of different people or indeed, orcs, goblins and elves.
The 2008 NSA report claims that if the intelligence garnered from the spying on these online games was used correctly, then pictures of ordinary citizen’s and potential terrorist social networks could be built up.
The NSA document reportedly claims to suggest that such infiltration ‘continues to uncover potential Sigint value by identifying accounts, characters and guilds related to Islamic extremist groups, nuclear proliferation and arms dealing.’
Second Life especially intruiged the NSA and GCHQ, because of its plans to introduce voice calls and anonymous texts – that terrorists could utilize.
However, the document revealed by Snowden details no clear indication that the widespread surveillance ever discovered any terrorists or even foiled any attacks – raising serious issues over the privacy of online gaming.
Microsoft declined to comment on the latest revelations, as did Philip Rosedale, the founder of Second Life.
The NSA declined to comment on the surveillance of games.
A spokesman for GCHQ told The Guardian the agency did not ‘confirm or deny’ the revelations but added: ‘All GCHQ’s work is carried out in accordance with a strict legal and policy framework which ensures that its activities are authorised, necessary and proportionate, and there is rigorous oversight, including from the secretary of state, the interception and intelligence services commissioners and the intelligence and security committee.’
Indeed, so rife was the spying online of Second Life by the FBI, CIA, and the Defense Humint Service that a memo was sent to try and ‘deconflict’ their work – i.e. make sure that they weren’t treading on each other’s toes.
However, the British credit card fraud bust aside, there are no other examples of the surveillance of these popular virtual worlds yielding any results in terms of anti-terrorism.
The agencies did have concerns beyond simple money laundering and planning though.
The NSA thought that games played online could be used to ‘reinforce prejudices and cultural stereotypes’ – pointing out that Hezbollah had produced their own game called Special Forces 2.
According to the document, Hezbollah’s ‘press section acknowledges the game is used for recruitment and training’, serving as a ‘radicalizing medium’ with the ultimate goal of becoming a ‘suicide martyr’.
Despite the game’s disturbing connotations, the ‘fun factor’ of the game cannot be discounted, it states.
As Special Forces 2 retails for $10, it concludes, the game also serves to ‘fund terrorist operations.’
1. You are being snooped on, Malaysia views US-NSA spying seriously!
2. You are being snooped on, Malaysia views US-NSA spying seriously!
3. Rightways Technologies: USA Spying, the Super-Snooper !
4. Brazil attacks US over spying issue
5. US Spy Snowden Says US Hacking China Since 2009
6. Brazil attacks US over spying issue
- Report: NSA spying on virtual worlds, online games Associated Press
- The NSA Is Spying on Your World of Warcraft Raids The Atlantic Wire
- NSA infiltrated online games. Was ‘World of Spycraft’ effort smart or a waste? Christian Science Monitor
- That trash-talking elf in World of Warcraft may be an NSA spy BGR News
- Why U.S. and British spies have moles in World of Warcraft