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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Sport
Robin van Persie leaves the field at the King Power Stadium last Sunday
football
News
In this photo illustration, the Twitter logo and hashtag '#Ring!' is displayed on a mobile device as the company announced its initial public offering and debut on the New York Stock Exchange on November 7, 2013 in London, England. Twitter went public on the NYSE opening at USD 26 per share, valuing the company's worth at an estimated USD 18 billion.
news

Arts and Entertainment
tvPresenter back after daughter's Halloween accident
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch as John Watson and Sherlock Holmes in Sherlock
tv

Co-creator Mark Gatiss dropped some very intriguing hints ahead of the BBC drama's return next year

Arts and Entertainment
music Band accidentally drops four-letter description at concert
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Executive

    £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Executive is required...

    Ashdown Group: Junior SQL DBA - London - £39,000

    £37000 - £39000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: SQL Database Administrato...

    Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer

    £26000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Expanding creative studio requi...

    Argyll Scott International: Senior Perl Developer

    £40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits : Argyll Scott International: Senior Perl...

    Day In a Page

    US immigration: President Obama ready to press ahead with long-promised plan to overhaul 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?

    Immigration: Obama's final frontier

    The President is ready to press ahead with the long-promised plan to overhaul America's 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?
    Bill Cosby rape allegations explained: Why are these allegations coming out now? Why didn’t these women come forward earlier? And why has nobody taken legal action?

    Bill Cosby rape allegations explained

    Why are these allegations coming out now? Why has nobody taken legal action? And what happens next for the man once thought of as 'America's Dad'
    Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain

    You know that headache you’ve got?

    Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain
    Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?

    Scoot commute

    Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?
    Paul Robeson: The story of how an American icon was driven to death to be told in film

    The Paul Robeson story

    How an American icon was driven to death to be told in film
    10 best satellite navigation systems

    Never get lost again: 10 best satellite navigation systems

    Keep your vehicle going in the right direction with a clever device
    Paul Scholes column: England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil

    Paul Scholes column

    England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil
    Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win says defender as he prepares to return with Hull

    Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win

    Hull defender faces his struggling former club on Sunday ready to show what they are missing. But he says he will always be grateful to Tottenham
    Frank Warren column: Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game

    Frank Warren column

    Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game
    Synagogue attack: Fear unites both sides of Jerusalem as minister warns restoring quiet could take 'months'

    Terror unites Jerusalem after synagogue attack

    Rising violence and increased police patrols have left residents of all faiths looking over their shoulders
    Medecins sans Frontieres: The Ebola crisis has them in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa

    'How do you carry on? You have to...'

    The Ebola crisis has Medecins sans Frontieres in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa
    Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

    Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

    Residents in what was Iraq’s safest city fear an increase in jihadist attacks, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Underwater photography competition winners 2014 - in pictures

    'Mysterious and inviting' shot of diver wins photography competition

    Stunning image of cenote in Mexico takes top prize
    Sir John Major: Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting

    Sir John Major hits out at theatres

    Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting
    Kicking Barbie's butt: How the growth of 3D printing enabled me to make an army of custom-made figurines

    Kicking Barbie's butt

    How the growth of 3D printing enabled toy-designer to make an army of custom-made figurines