The American National Security Agency (NSA) and British Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) have been secretly monitoring online multiplayer games like World of Warcraft for years in an attempt to uncover terrorist activity, according to reports.
The two agencies have a tight relationship that includes covertly influencing companies, sharing harvested information and directly accessing data as it moves between the datacenters of major Internet companies.
Agents were also tasked with infiltrating the online worlds of Second Life and World of Warcraft, with some attempts “to recruit potential informants from the games’ tech-friendly users,” according to the Guardian.
The 2008 NSA document, titled “Terrorist Use of Games & Virtual Environments,” described online games as “target-rich communications network” allowing intelligence agencies to “hide in plain sight.”
The document notes that there were so many US intelligence agents operating inside online games that a “deconfliction” group was required, which ensured that the agents weren’t spying on or interfering with each other.
Online games could be used to build a profile of a target’s social networks through analysis of “buddylists and interaction,” as a window for hacking attacks, as a way to obtain identifiers like profile photos, geolocation and collection of a target’s communications, according to the NSA document.
“Given that gaming consoles often include voice headsets, video cameras, and other identifiers, the potential for joining together biometric information with activities was also an exciting one,” the Guardian reports.
If such surveillance efforts continue to this day and will be utilized in the future, one might speculate that the Xbox One could be an especially useful tool for intelligence agencies.
Yet there is not much evidence that the monitoring has yielded success in fighting terrorism as of yet, according to Computer World.
However, GCHQ was able to use a network exploitation team to help London police catch a crime ring using Second Life to sell stolen credit cards, according to The New York Times.
In a January 2009 meeting, it was revealed that GCHQ operatives “had identified engineers, embassy drivers, scientists and other foreign intelligence operatives to be World of Warcraft players,” making them potential targets for recruitment, according to the Times.
Before U.S. intelligence agencies were exploiting the intelligence gathering potential of online games like World of Warcraft, the agencies were reportedly using mobile games to gather intelligence.
The Pentagon’s Special Operations Command worked with multiple foreign companies in 2006 and 2007 to build games – which were never identified as Pentagon creations – to collect information about users, according to the Times.
In spring 2009, the U.S. government also reportedly sought out defense contractors and academics to carry out studies into how real-world identities might be linked to in-game activity of players.
It is unclear if these programs continue to this day.
I’d love to hear your opinion, take a look at your story tips and even your original writing if you would like to get it published. I am also available for interviews on radio, television or any other format. Please email me at [email protected]
This article first appeared at End the Lie.