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Monday, December 09, 2013
World of Warcraft and Second Life Games Produce Intelligence, NSA Document Shows

NSA and U.K's GCHQ collect gamers' chats and deploy real-life agents into World of Warcraft and Second Life, according to secret documents disclosed by whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The document, written in 2008, were obtained by The Guardian, show that the agencies have built mass-collection capabilities against the Xbox Live console network. Real-life agents have been deployed into virtual realms to infiltrate the massive communities playing online games.

If properly exploited, games could produce vast amounts of intelligence, according to the the NSA document. They could be used as a window for hacking attacks, to build pictures of people's social networks through "buddylists and interaction", to make approaches by undercover agents, and to obtain target identifiers, geolocation, and collection of communications.

The document contains no indication that the surveillance ever foiled any terrorism plots. However, according to the document, "Al-Qaida terrorist target selectors and have been found associated with XboxLive, Second Life, World of Warcraft, and other GVEs [Games and Virtual Environments]," the document notes. "Other targets include Chinese hackers, an Iranian nuclear scientist, Hizballah, and Hamas members."

The UK agency did not stop at World of Warcraft, though: by September a memo noted GCHQ had "successfully been able to get the discussions between different game players on Xbox Live".

The operations raise concerns about the privacy of gamers. It is unclear how the agencies accessed their data, or how many communications were collected. Nor is it clear how the NSA ensured that it was not monitoring Americans whose identity and nationality may have been concealed behind their virtual avatar.

The producer of World of Warcraft told The Guardian that neither the NSA nor GCHQ had sought its permission to gather intelligence inside the game. "We are unaware of any surveillance taking place," said a spokesman for Blizzard Entertainment. "If it was, it would have been done without our knowledge or permission."

The NSA declined to comment on the surveillance of games.

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