NSA and GCHQ agents spied on online gamers using World of Warcraft and Second Life

No evidence of successful counter-terrorism operations thanks to in-game surveillance has emerged, despite agents going 'undercover' in game

The latest documents leaked by ex NSA-contractor Edward Snowden have shown that the US government infiltrated online games in order to spy on potential militant targets.

As well as collecting bulk data from games such as World of Warcraft and Second Life, intelligence operatives also went undercover, taking on fantasy identities such as elves and gnomes.

A top-secret 2008 document from the NSA titled ‘Exploiting Terrorist Use of Games & Virtual Environments’ warned that online games might offer suspects “a way to hide in plain sight”, providing unmonitored communication channels as well as potential methods for laundering money via in-game currencies.

“Al-Qaida terrorist target selectors and … have been found associated with XboxLive, Second Life, World of Warcraft, and other GVEs [Games and Virtual Environments]," an NSA document obtained by The Guardian and shared with the New York Times and Pro Public notes .

"Other targets include Chinese hackers, an Iranian nuclear scientist, Hizballah, and Hamas members."

However, although both British and American agencies were able to link game data with known targets and militant groups, the documents do not record any instances of successful counterterrorism operations emerging from this surveillance.

Another documents notes that monitoring of World of Warcraft “continues to uncover potential Sigint [Signals Intelligence] value by identifying accounts, characters and guilds related to Islamic extremist groups, nuclear proliferation and arms dealing," but does not specifiy any terrorist activities being conducted through the game.

The potential resource of online games became so popular that a “deconfliction” group was set up to ensure that CIA and FBI agents did not overlap in their duties.

As well as virtual worlds the agencies also monitored Microsoft’s Xbox Live, an online service that currently boasts more than 48 million gamers. The UK spy agency GCHQ reported that they had "successfully been able to get the discussions between different game players on Xbox Live.”

In 2008 GCHQ also set up its “first operational deployment into Second Life” under the codename Operation Galician, notes The Guardian. By contacting an informer “who helpfully volunteered information on the target group’s latest activities”, agents were able to crack down on a criminal gang selling stolen credit card information in the virtual world.

Linden Labs, the makers of Second Life did not offer comment on the spying, although a spokesman for Blizzard Entertainment, the makers of World of Warcraft, told the New York Times that they were “unaware of any surveillance taking place,” and that “if it was, it would have been done without our knowledge or permission.”

The revelations come just as Google, Facebook, Microsoft and five other leading US technology companies issued an open letter, calling on the US to dramatically reform its current surveillance operations.

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Recruitment Genius: IT Support Engineer - 2nd & 3rd Line

    £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The IT Support Engineer is needed to ass...

    Recruitment Genius: Junior / Mid Software Developer

    £22000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: IT Service Desk Manager

    £35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A great opportunity to join a p...

    Recruitment Genius: Graphic and Motion Designer

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Do you get a buzz from thinking up new ideas a...

    Day In a Page

    The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

    They fled war in Syria...

    ...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
    From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

    Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

    Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
    Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

    Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

    Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
    From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

    Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

    From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
    Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

    Kelis interview

    The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea