The NSA and the UK’s GCHQ spying agencies have collected players’ charts and deployed real-life agents into online World of Warcraft and Second Life games, a new leak by whistleblower Edward Snowden has revealed.
An NSA document from 2008, titled “Exploiting Terrorist Use of Games & Virtual Environments,” waspublished Monday by The Guardian in partnership with The New York Times and ProPublica.
In the report, the agency warned of the risk of leaving games communities under-monitored and described them as a “target-rich communications network” where intelligence targets could “hide in plain sight.”
The document showed that the US and UK spy agencies were collecting large amounts of data in the Xbox Live console network, which has more than 48 million players.
Real-life agents have been deployed into the World of Warcraft multiplayer online role-playing game and the virtual world of Second Life, in which people interact with each other through avatars.
The NSA and GCHQ also tried to recruit potential informants among the gamers, the report said.
The NSA had so many agents inside the games that a special “de-confliction” group was set up to make sure they wouldn’t hamper each other’s operations.
If analyzed properly, the online games can become a major source of intelligence data, the unnamed author of the paper stressed.
They could be used to build pictures of the players’ social networks, obtain their photos and geographical locations, as well as gather their communications. The games were also a convenient window for hacking attacks, the report said.
However, the document provided no information about terrorist plots uncovered via online games surveillance, or any proof of terrorist organizations using them for communication.
The document only stated that: “Al-Qaeda terrorist target selectors… have been found associated with XboxLive, Second Life, World of Warcraft, and other GVEs [Games and Virtual Environments].”
Other NSA targets mentioned in the report include “Chinese hackers, an Iranian nuclear scientist, Hezbollah and Hamas members.” see more