Not limiting their activities to the earthly realm, American and British spies have infiltrated the fantasy worlds of World of Warcraft and Second Life, conducting surveillance and scooping up data in the online games played by millions of people across the globe, according to newly disclosed classified documents.I think the way this started is that some young NSA hack was playing WoW on company time when his supervisor walked in.
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 spies have created make-believe characters to snoop and to try to recruit informers, while also collecting data and contents of communications between players, according to the documents, disclosed by the former National Security Agency contractor Edward J. Snowden. 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.
Online games might seem innocuous, a top-secret 2008 N.S.A. document warned, but they had the potential to be a “target-rich communication network” allowing intelligence suspects “a way to hide in plain sight.” Virtual games “are an opportunity!” another 2008 N.S.A. document declared.
Jones, what are you doing?
[Jones, thinking quickly] Sir, it just occurred to me that these games are played by people all over the world, and they allow players to communicate by voice and text message. Sir, I think this is a communications channel that bypasses our snooping systems.
[Supervisor] You mean terrorists could be sending each other secret messages through these games?
[Jones] Yes, sir, and since people are always talking about getting together in groups to attack targets, they could plan operations using only a few simple code words.
[Supervisor] Great thinking Jones! I'm going to set up a new working group to infiltrate these games, and I'm putting you in charge!
[Jones] I have died and gone to heaven. . . .