NSA Snoops Online Video Games

Intelligence agencies are secretly infiltrating online games like World of Warcraft and Second Life

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You can strike terrorist trolls off your list of things to be afraid of.

The National Security Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency have secretly infiltrated the virtual worlds of online multi-player games like World of Warcraft and Second Life, where they use avatars to recruit informants and seek out potential threats, according to a new report. Documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden describe the potential of an online game to “become a target-rich communication network” where threat “targets hide in plain sight,” ProPublica, the Guardian and the New York Times report in a joint investigation.

According to one document, in 2008 the British intelligence agency GCHQ helped bring down a crime ring selling stolen credit card information in a virtual world. Another GCHQ document describes the potential to recruit engineers, embassy drivers, scientists, and other foreign intelligence operatives by meeting their avatars in virtual worlds. An NSA document said spying on the World of Warcraft “continues to uncover potential Sigint value by identifying accounts, characters and guilds related to Islamic extremist groups, nuclear proliferation and arms dealing.”

There is some evidence intelligence agencies may have over-committed resources to combating a relatively minor threat in its virtual world operations, ProPublica reports. With so many agents from CIA, FBI, and DIA operating in Second Life, a “deconfliction” group was needed, according to one document, to avoid collisions between spies working for the same team.

In a World of Warcraft discussion thread started days after Snowden’s revelations first began making the news in June, a human death knight named Crrassus wondered aloud if the NSA might be monitoring the discussions.

“If they ever read these forums,” a goblin priest named Diaya replied, “they would realize they were wasting” their time.

Microsoft, Second Life founder Philip Rosedale and Linden Lab executives all declined requests for comment from ProPublica. A spokesperson for Blizzard Entertainment, which makes World of Warcraft, said the company is “unaware of any surveillance taking place” and that “if it was, it would have been done without our knowledge or permission.

[ProPublica]

35 comments
di3531
di3531

How do i get this job at the NSA???

gardenvarietygrl
gardenvarietygrl

This isn't true, it's too stupid. Government officials creating virtual lives in hopes of hearing terrorists sharing plans in chat mode? Someone needs to lay off the eggnog. 

KatkaVelicka
KatkaVelicka

Honestly, when I think about it doesn't even surprise me that the NSA has gone as far as literally playing games to know what we have to say.  People spend tremendous amount of time in front of the computer, and even though I never understood why, they seem to be pretty open to discuss basically everything while jumping over a volcano or killing the terrorist ahead of them. When you connect two plus two, it's not surprising at all that the NSA feels an itching need to infiltrate into every area of our lives to get the info they "need". I mean, God knows, maybe I'll just by the way mention my plan to destroy the planet earth while playing my favorite game. We are writing a blog on the same topic, so feel free to check it out if http://dofftherecord.blogspot.nl

Pokrovka
Pokrovka

Mom to Son: " You realize the NSA has been spying on all of you gamers?"

Son to Mom: "You realize they've seen a lot of porn and I'm pretty sure they're ok with it?"

AricBolf
AricBolf

"spying on the World of Warcraft “continues to uncover potential Sigint value by identifying accounts, characters and guilds related to Islamic extremist groups, nuclear proliferation and arms dealing.”


This is the most hilarious and dumbest thing I've heard in a long long time.


The NSA knows I order sausage and cheese for pizza from tapping phones and now they know i had a lucky streak last week and got 2 key drops out of the Siege of Orgrimmar instance.


They aren't spying on WoW, they are creating this bogus excuse to play the game while at work.

reverb256
reverb256

Oh, this explains the influx of scrubby players who suck at everything. :)

nunley.org
nunley.org

Why are these tech companies going after the NSA?  They are partners, it doesn't make sense.

magnetik
magnetik

think it would be easier at this point for the NSA to tell us who they AREN'T spying on.

yogi
yogi

well there goes my screen name "NSA_nark"

forgottenlord
forgottenlord

Not unrelated, Microsoft announced last week in regards to their XBox Live services that it would consider any attempts by the NSA or other government agencies to breach its systems to be equivalent to similar attempts by any rogue group and would fight it or any court orders for that info.

tfdrumm
tfdrumm

Seems odd to call observing an essentially public series of events on-line "snooping." When I walk by the park, is it "snooping" to look at people playing games there? 

TomMengel
TomMengel

I could see why NSA and the like might want to do a little high level risk analysis on this kind of thing (stranger intel drop boxes and covert meeting places have been known to exist) but where else can you actually get paid for play, so to speak, and where will it end.  Since lots of interesting stuff can be hidden in GIF and PDF and other image files I suppose the next logical step is survey porn sites to find any "embedded" data . . . volunteers now being accepted!

grape_crush
grape_crush

> "There is some evidence intelligence agencies may have over-committed resources to combating a relatively minor threat in its virtual world operations..."

NSA manager: Why am I seeing these monthly billings for video gaming on your expense statement?

NSA staffer: Um...monitoring communications in online communities...yeah, that's it. It's not like I'm actually playing these games on work time or anything...

postingonline42
postingonline42

So when Vile Rat in Eve Online died in Benghazi, we all wondered why the USA would send a leader of Goonswarm to be a diplomat. Goonswarm is an organization of griefers, scamers, trolls, and other such nasties who play video games for one specific purpose: to make other people so miserable that other people stop playing video games. They don't rack up high scores, they rack up victims. They are like parasites, killing any video game they join by just being so nasty in it. Vile Rat, the guy that died in Benghazi, was a prominent leader of this organization. 

Some say we are different on-line than off-line. Maybe this was a case of a nice person being a diplomat too much in his day job and venting vitriol and destruction on-line. Others said "i'm glad he's dead" on the grounds that one can't be that evil on-line and a good person off-line. You just don't make little kids cry on-line if you don't also harbor that much evil off-line.

When I learned that Benghazi was a gun-running operation to syria, masquerading as a diplomatic outpost, sending American money to help the same terrorists who we are "fighting" in Afghanistan, then i understood: of course you send Goonswarm to do a dirty deed of that nature! You don't want a diplomat to send american money to syrians who tear hearts out and eat them on you-tube, you want a Vile Rat.


Now I wonder to what extent the on-line trolling, griefing, scamming contingent is funded by my taxes.

dbu
dbu

@OsborneInk Nobody was paying attention 6 years ago, now people are listening.

Realworldnonfantasyland
Realworldnonfantasyland

@magnetik I would guess you.... Hate to burst your bubble, but I don't think the two of us are really important enough to need to be spied on

dbu
dbu

@magnetik Ready?  here it is......



...there, want to hear it again?

dbu
dbu

@forgottenlord And yet they freely give access to skype, it's built in, and say and do nothing.  They're just claiming this to try to keep from going out of business, it means nothing.  Thanks Obama!

dbu
dbu

@tfdrumm It is if you audio-video record them all and have a nice keyword-searchable catalog back at home of every word spoken in the park from every second of every day for the past 10 years....

LisaAgnesGardner
LisaAgnesGardner

@postingonline42 says: "Now I wonder to what extent the on-line trolling, griefing, scamming contingent is funded by my taxes"


More than you would like to  know, I am sure - and this has been the case for many years now.

dbu
dbu

@postingonline42 Hello Glen Beck!  You have no idea what you're talking about.  Maybe you should do a little infitration of games like Eve Online of your own before you spout your mouth off like that.


First of all, CCP, the company that makes Eve Online, actually encourages such "griefers, scamers, trolls, and other such nasties" among all players.  They even have ads literally promoting infiltrating different player groups and taking each other down from within by betrayal.  They designed Eve to be a cold dark place where players-vs-player combat happens anywhere in the game, and this appeals to a different sort of person than the warm happy coddled universes of most other multiplayer games where that's only allowed in a tiny arena.


As to why people enjoy this sort of thing, I think it's best explained by this: http://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2004/03/19  People become kind of sadistic when there are no real consequences to their actions.  And I mean all people, yep, even you.  Try it, you'll see.  It's human nature.


In spite of all that, there are good people at heart, who try to help people, even in inhospitable environments such as these.  Even Goonswarm itself, who is known by many for pure evil, isn't as evil as you might expect once you get to know them.  They have two great qualities for good:


1) They are extremely loyal to their friends.  This is the basic building block of civilization and community.  This is why the most successful gangs stick together, in spite of all pressures from other gangs and law enforcement.  This is why the NSA sticks together, in spite of most of the world hating them now.  When lawlessness abounds as CCP designed into Eve Online, this is a basic human element that shines through, and it's a good element of all the above.


2) They are extremely fun-loving.  Everything they do is for the "fun" of it.  People find it fun to "troll" each other, so that's what they do.  People find it fun to make another player's game life miserable, so that's what they do.  People find it fun to form up a fleet of internet spaceships and find another fleet to kill, so that's what they do.  These are the basic building blocks of how to fight an enemy in Eve, and if you try it, it's actually fun.  And that's the way CCP designed it.  If you don't like that, don't play, find a more warm fuzzy game.


You are an idiot for trashing a good man's grave, like you've done for Sean Smith.  Do you realize that Vile Rat (his online name) was actually a diplomat in game, and was loved by many players outside of Goonswarm?  After he died, half the player-run stations in Eve were renamed in his memory.  And Eve Online players raised over $100,000 to donate to his widow.  This is the total opposite picture of what you paint.  Please do some first hand research next time.

LisaAgnesGardner
LisaAgnesGardner

@postingonline42


They had their start on USENET; in my opinion this is where they first started performing their psychological research/intimidation. I'd like to see this come out into the open.

postingonline42
postingonline42

I know CCP encourages griefers, scammers and trolls. I didn't say anything on the contrary.

I did point out that when "People find it fun to make another player's game life miserable, so that's what they do." (although it's not limited to "game" life) and then they die, other people are not always sad about it.


You seem to find that strangely hard to accept.




I knew about their in-game tribute to the guy, but not the donation to his widow.





"This is why the NSA sticks together, in spite of most of the world hating them now."

The NSA's job isn't to stick together "in spite of most of the world hating them" like goonswarm. 

Their job is to help uphold the American sovereignty AND constitution, which includes the fourth and ninth amendment.


I was only wondering to what extent NSA and Goonswarm are actually the same people. And you got all offended.




dbu
dbu

@postingonline42 I used to believe as that little old lady, back when I first started playing Eve... it made me so mad I totally swung toward PVP out of some sense of wanting to do justice to people like that.  Now, after playing for several years, and after making many friends all over Eve, I've come to realize that people who enjoy griefing others in game are not all psychotic sadistic humans in real life, they are mostly just regular people who have had inhibitions removed in the game by the game's design.  The game is designed to be a cold dark terrible place where you have to form into groups of people and make friends in order to thrive and grow.  It's designed to be like the "wild west" so to speak, where anything goes, and you see what grows out of it, sandbox-style.  I see it as a study of what would happen if there were no rules, no laws, no morals, and no true death (only loss of hard-earned possessions).


The goons are known for all manner of scams, including recruitment scams.  That does not make them disloyal to their friends... those people they're scamming are still outsiders.  Once you are a real goon, or belong to any one of the many groups that are allied with the goons in their coalition, you are on the inside, and you are not scammed like an outsider.  You can only be truly cast out from such a position by being a betrayer first, then you are tossed out and all your stuff is stolen if you're dumb enough to allow it to be (stealing or destroying your stuff is really the only means of punishment in the game, besides laughing at you and calling you names).


I see this as similar to what I've seen among real life friends who have had high security clearances.  To the last man, every single one I know sees Snowden as a traitor not a patriot, because he betrayed his trust of that "inside group" first...  us outsiders who are not part of that Intelligence Community are the ones that are scammed by them, spied upon freely, and generally have no rights whatsoever, and we're laughed at for thinking we should have any.  And now that Snowden has betrayed his team, he's suffering all sorts of terrible things... never mind if he did it for the greater good or whatever.


The parallels between Goons and the Intelligence Community are an interesting study of general human behavior, but not because they are literally the same organization of course.

postingonline42
postingonline42

You speak of loyalty. goons were not famous for it, in fact they are famous for betraying their allies for a lark.


I do not think goons are NSA. I was merely wondering if there was significant over-lap between in-game griefing -- whether said griefing is supported by the game designers as in Eve or hated by the game designers as in more "cuddly, fluffy" games -- and NSA infiltrators. Namely, would the gaming environment be more pleasant for people like me if the NSA didn't play?


postingonline42
postingonline42

I'll say I may have gone too far. I was relating discussions where I was the only one in my corp feeling that he might have been a good person off-line and that on-line behavior might be a vent for things that are repressed off-line and not representative of moral character. A little old lady who makes jewelry and mines with us wasn't convinced, it was her opinion that to be an average griefer in-game you had to have a real-world sadistic streak. Benghazi revelations about it being not-so-diplomatic in the first place made me think she was right. 

Don't know about Mr Rat's in-game sadistic streak or lack thereof, if he was more of a diplomat as you say and did NOT try to recruit "noobs" into goonswarm for a fee only to shoot them on arrival and then call them names like your typical goon then maybe I spoke too soon.

My husband flew with goons when there was no one else left to fly with, and he says their FC's are a lot of fun. I"m willing to concede that their 0.0 activities may not have been as vile as the ones I have been exposed to.



dbu
dbu

@postingonline42 That's all folks.. it seems there were no banned words, just it wouldn't accept my post all at once for some reason...

dbu
dbu

@postingonline42 Loyalty as a basic human trait is a good thing, just it shouldn't go against the Constitution and rule of law and basic human rights, at least, not out here in the "real world" where we actually have such things!

dbu
dbu

@postingonline42 I agree about what the NSA's job should be... but what I see them doing is entirely different:  They have each other's backs...  Once you're an "insider" and especially if you're high up in command, you're set for life, no matter what you do they're all loyal to each other.

dbu
dbu

@postingonline42 Goonswarm is not controlled by the NSA or CIA or FBI any more than the rest of the gaming universe.  Get to know them in game, you'll see.  That is not to say that it's impossible for there to be infiltrations, just that they're not special in this.

dbu
dbu

@postingonline42 I was only offended at what I thought was besmirching of a good man's name.  Even sworn Goonswarm haters in Eve don't go that far.

dbu
dbu

@postingonline42 Please excuse me while I break up my reply into a dozen tiny posts, trying to find the banned word...