NSA Spies Go Virtual, Snooping On World of Warcraft And Xbox Live Gamers

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News Posted: Mon, Dec 9 2013 12:36 PM
We've seen a lot of strange information come out of the Snowden leaks, much of it deeply worrying. We've learned that the government allegedly has enormous siphoning capability, and sucks up data from the Internet at will, gains access to the entire database of cell phone metadata on everyone in the United States, and has even infiltrated the linkages between Google and Yahoo datacenters.

Today, we found out that the government has spread that campaign of spying...to Azeroth.


Taurrorism. Get it? I'll be here all week, folks

According to The Guardian, the GCHQ (British NSA) and our own organization deployed agents to swarm through virtual worlds, attempted to recruit informants out of friendly players, and described games as "target-rich communications network" where intelligence targets could "hide in plain sight."

More than anything, these documents show just how paranoid the NSA had become. Despite describing WoW, Xbox Live, and other games as being hypothetically stuffed full of terrorists, no one involved with these programs was able to produce any evidence that terrorists used them for plotting missions as opposed to, say, 40-man raids. That didn't stop them from developing "exploitation modules to use against the games, though there's no indication they ever caught anyone.


Odd groups go to left, even groups go to right...

The GCHQ did manage to trace a website dealing in stolen credit cards, but there's no evidence in these documents that it ever uncovered the kind of pervasive training network it believed existed. As amusing as it is to think on black-suited NSA agents competing with foul-mouthed 12 year olds on Xbox Live, the utter lack of a sense of scale is sobering. The NSA seriously believed that these games "offer realistic weapons training...military operations and tactics, photorealistic land navigation, terrain familiarization, and leadership skills."

"The amount of GVE's (Games and Virtual Environments) in the world is growing but the specific ones that CT needs to be methodically discovered and validated. Only then can we find evidence that GVE's are being used for operational uses."

The very phrasing of the quote is problematic. We have to spy on everything, so we can prove that there's something here we should be spying on. It's impossible to simultaneously advocate for such behavior and protect the privacy of individuals -- when everything must be spied upon, by definition, privacy cannot exist.

That's not to say the NSA was completely wrong -- games like this undoubtedly have some ability to be used as meeting vectors. Nor are we opposed to shutting down illegal credit card operations as a means of safeguarding everyone involved. But the degree of infiltration and spying with absolutely no indication of an actual problem is the problematic portion. Blizzard has stated that it had no idea such infiltration had taken place, and the NSA documents never point to any particular smoking gun that justified the intrusions. At what point do we require agencies to actually show evidence that a problem exists before we allow them to invade the privacy of millions?
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JMeloni replied on Mon, Dec 9 2013 12:57 PM

no one should be surprised in a tyrannical government.

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Joel H replied on Mon, Dec 9 2013 1:49 PM

This is banality of evil at it's finest.

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That is child abuse!

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The Horde are not terrorist....they are good people.....hehehe......:)

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BWAHAHAHAHA! Tyrannical government... that's rich.

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JMeloni replied on Mon, Dec 9 2013 4:31 PM

BAAHHAahbhahbahhba lmaocakes

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The NSA must be very bored.... wow players don't have time to talk about terrorist attacks they are to busy grinding

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What?? You mean all those people who rant, rave, threaten and punk other players are now under suspicion of being a real world threat?? Maybe they should go after the spammers selling gold. After all, they get their gold by hacking accounts and most live in various countries.

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ECouts replied on Mon, Dec 9 2013 8:10 PM

And, of course, Yahoo! doesn't even try to hide that they allow people to spy on them by disabling SSL by default. So why are we so worried about those that at least try to secure most of it?

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FRubi replied on Tue, Dec 10 2013 4:23 AM

I think its funny this is all coming out now, those of us who worked for NSA were like.... They're seriously playing WOW? ROFL Come on...

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You can't be serious. I play World of Warcraft and I just bought an Xbox One. #wtfNSA

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For the Horde!!!!!

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KZukowski replied on Tue, Dec 10 2013 6:34 PM

I hate to play Devil's Advocate here but the dismissive tone in, "More than anything, these documents show just how paranoid the NSA had become" is unwarranted. With all other forms of communication monitored and locked down (even email as the whole PRISM debacle shows) I'm sure the masterminds behind the more sophisticated terror cells have thought of using WoW and other MMOs as a communications medium. I'm all for balancing privacy with security but ridiculing the NSA for thinking of this ignores the potential problems here. Long shot but you can't blame them for exploring this as a possibility.

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Joel H replied on Tue, Dec 10 2013 8:21 PM

The paranoia is buried in the assumptions. "We have to completely infiltrate the game to find the bad guys." Note that the question of whether the bad guys actually existed was never raised. No one seriously asked: "Wait a minute. What if the reason we aren't finding evidence is because the evidence isn't THERE?"

In other sections, the report claimed that online games could be used to directly fund terrorism, or that players could build sophisticated 3D maps of real-world areas then use biometric monitors to measure human responses. It's outlandish.

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KZukowski replied on Thu, Dec 12 2013 7:58 AM

"or that players could build sophisticated 3D maps of real-world areas"

Good point, just shows how ignorant they were of the game itself lol. Maybe they should have tried snooping in on Minecraft then.

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realneil replied on Wed, Dec 18 2013 8:30 AM

KZukowski:
Maybe they should have tried snooping in on Minecraft then.

They probably did & do.

Dogs are great judges of character, and if your dog doesn't like somebody being around, you shouldn't trust them.

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