Another NSA Target: World of Warcraft

Agents saw games as a 'target-rich communications network'

By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff

Posted Dec 9, 2013 9:47 AM CST

(Newser) – It's not just us humans who have faced NSA surveillance: Orcs and elves were also among its targets. The agency, along with its British cousin GCHQ, did some of its spying in the virtual world, through games like World of Warcraft and Second Life, the Guardian reports, based on the latest Edward Snowden documents. A 2008 NSA document labeled the virtual worlds a "target-rich communications network" that could allow targets to "hide in plain sight." The document argued that the games offered terrorists a place to communicate and even shift funds in secret, the New York Times notes. Second Life, for instance, had anonymous texting, in-game calls, and noticeboards in the works that could facilitate covert communications.

Amongst the agencies' collection was reams of data from the Xbox Live network. There were enough NSA agents working in the games that officials had to develop a "deconfliction" group, the Guardian notes, in order to prevent accidental snooping on each other. Yet there's no evidence that the agencies' in-game activities stopped any terror—or even that the virtual worlds were being used for such purposes. Notes a cybersecurity expert, games "are built and operated by companies looking to make money, so the players' identity and activity is tracked. For terror groups looking to keep their communications secret, there are far more effective and easier ways to do so than putting on a troll avatar." World of Warcraft maker Blizzard says any surveillance "would have been done without our knowledge or permission."

This file image from the game World of Warcraft was provided by its publisher, Blizzard Entertainment.
This file image from the game "World of Warcraft" was provided by its publisher, Blizzard Entertainment.   (AP Photo/Blizzard Entertainment, file)
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