Report: Intelligence agencies spied on Xbox Live, World of Warcraft, and Second Life

A set of documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden reveal that intelligence agencies like the NSA and British GCHQ created characters and obtained communications data on Xbox Live, World of Warcraft, and Second Life to keep tabs on possible terrorist and criminal targets.

11

The world of national news has once again collided with our corner of video game news, as a new report claims that various intelligence agencies tried applying their spycraft within games like World of Warcraft and Second Life, along with the Xbox Live service. Classified documents leaked by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden reveal that groups snooped in the games, believing they could be used by terrorists or other criminals to communicate secretly.

The documents, reported by the New York Times, say that the agencies collected data on communications between players, while also creating their own characters to recruit informants in-game. Fearing the games provided a rich opportunity to "hide in plain sight," intelligence officials felt they had to check.

How the agencies gained access to data and communications, or just how many gamers were scrutinized, is unclear. A document from the British Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) said that it had "successfully been able to get the discussions between different game players on Xbox Live." It didn't specify how those discussions had been obtained. For their part, Blizzard said that neither the NSA nor the GCHQ had gotten permission to monitor in WoW.

"We are unaware of any surveillance taking place," said a spokesman for Blizzard. "If it was, it would have been done without our knowledge or permission."

Spokespersons for Microsoft and Linden Lab declined to comment.

The released documents don't show any evidence of successful counter-terrorism from the efforts. A 2008 operation from GCHQ did reportedly help crack down on a crime ring that had moved into virtual worlds to sell stolen credit card information. But the sheer mass of agencies involved had a downside. So many disparate groups were involved at once in Second Life, the report states, that a "deconfliction" group was formed to keep them from running into each other.

One NSA document did claim that valid targets of interest appeared to be playing World of Warcraft, but it doesn't indicate that the targets were playing for nefarious communications purposes. In other words, they may have just been playing for fun in their spare time.

Editor-In-Chief
From The Chatty
  • reply
    December 9, 2013 8:15 AM

    Steve Watts posted a new article, Report: Intelligence agencies spied on Xbox Live, World of Warcraft, and Second Life.

    A set of documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden reveal that intelligence agencies like the NSA and British GCHQ created characters and obtained communications data on Xbox Live, World of Warcraft, and Second Life to keep tabs on possible terrorist and criminal targets.

    • reply
      December 9, 2013 11:22 AM

      Why not we boycott every single game that spied on people, see how much fun that will be?

    • reply
      December 9, 2013 11:37 AM

      I assume my mental image of an NSA Spy's Gnome Avatar peeking around the corner to spy on the Orc Avatars of two Al Qaeda Terrorists Chatting in Arabic to one another while they plot bombings is not quite what happened here?

    • reply
      December 9, 2013 11:55 AM

      and now with kinect in every box they can watch gamers 24/7

      • reply
        December 9, 2013 12:04 PM

        [deleted]

      • reply
        December 9, 2013 1:21 PM

        Just like with webcams and phone cameras, right?

        • reply
          December 9, 2013 1:23 PM

          You know phone cameras and mics can be activated remotely without notifying you right?

          • reply
            December 9, 2013 1:39 PM

            Yep. Which is why I find it funny when people get so paranoid about Kinect when they most likely already have cameras in their home or on their person that could be used for surveillance in the same manner.

    • reply
      December 9, 2013 1:40 PM

      Totally planning to blow up airports while I was busy killing deathwing, and using in game mail to send to my brothers my plans.

    • reply
      December 9, 2013 2:58 PM

      I wonder if they scrutinized Horde more than Alliance...

    • reply
      December 9, 2013 3:49 PM

      I'm sure a lot of this stems from an out of touch pen pusher in some federal office who is still attached to the idea that Quake is an "online virtual terrorist training camp."

    • kch legacy 10 years
      reply
      December 9, 2013 4:28 PM

      the nsa wanted to spy on a communications medium used by tens of millions all across the world?

      unbelievable! who would've thought they would stoop this low?

      next we'll have a shocking revelation that they are watching snapchat.

      • reply
        December 9, 2013 6:19 PM

        "If you did nothing wrong you have nothing to hide."

    • reply
      December 9, 2013 7:14 PM

      so basically some dudes from the NSA got to play games for free on the gov'ment's dime? Thanks Obama.

    • reply
      December 9, 2013 7:14 PM

      ralph plz go

    • reply
      December 9, 2013 7:21 PM

      I feel sorry for the dude who infiltrated our guild chat. That shit was downright rancid at times.

      • reply
        December 10, 2013 9:37 AM

        I think the guy who had to pull duty on Second Life had it worse. On a related note, I'm going to send in an anonymous tip that violent Islamic terrorists have been using a BBW Furry Toiletplay Dolcett group on Second Life to coordinate with each other.

Hello, Meet Lola