U.S., U.K. Spies Use Video Games to Watch Players
Leaked documents show both governments pulled data from users and spied on players
Published: Wednesday, December 11, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, December 11, 2013 18:12
It’s hardly a shock to learn that the government is trying to spy on you through your electronic and entertainment devices anymore. Now you can add one more method to the list alongside computers, phones, tablets, etc.—video games.
Documents leaked by good old Edward Snowden dating back to 2008 show that intelligence agencies in the United States and Britain “infiltrated” online games to spy on users out of fear that they may be used for terrorist get-togethers. The story has since been picked up by ProPublica, The Guardian and the New York Times.
The initiative doesn’t just include playing existing games, either. The documents indicate that in some cases mobile games were created by the agencies for the express purpose of collecting user data.
None of the documents indicate any successful findings in the years since the program started, despite the excitable language used in the documents, which describes spying on unknowing online game players as a “target-rich communication network” and “an opportunity!”
“World of Warcraft is one with an impressive following of gaming enthusiasts. With over 10 million users worldwide, may be providing SIGINT (signals intelligence) targets a way to hide in plain sight,” the document points out.
Experts tend to disagree, however. Peter W. Singer, author of “Cybersecurity and Cyberwar: What Everyone Needs to Know,” said in an interview with the New York Times: “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.”
The search for video game insurgents does start somewhere. Reports indicate Al Qaida “terrorist target selectors,” Chinese hackers, an Iranian nuclear scientist, Hizballah and Hamas have all had network traffic associated with Xbox Live (or XboxLive! as the document calls it), Second Life and World of Warcraft. Similarly, I suspect each of these groups has read a book, watch television, and perhaps even gone to the movies at one point or another.
With 82 pages of documents, years of work and no results what we appear to have here is the CIA, NSA and British intelligence spying on citizens for no better reason that they fear video games—proof that our government is paying your Fox News-watching grandparents in taxpayer money to misunderstand video games. They could have saved themselves the trouble and just watched The O’Reilly Factor.
Blizzard, the developer of “World of Warcraft,” stated that it never granted the agencies permission to pull data or spy on users. According to video game website Polygon, Microsoft and Second Life are remaining silent at the time of this writing.