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NSA looking for terrorists in online games, says new Snowden leak
NSA looking for terrorists in online games, says new Snowden leak
December 9, 2013 | By Mike Rose

December 9, 2013 | By Mike Rose
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    41 comments
More: Console/PC, Social/Online, Business/Marketing



A document leaked by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden states that the NSA has been sending agents into online games on Xbox Live and PC, in a bid to infiltrate online game communities.

According to documents obtained by the Guardian, and published in full on ProPublica, the NSA has built mass-collection initiatives around the Xbox Live network, and extended these infiltration efforts to massively multiplayer online worlds like World of Warcraft and Second Life.

In a document titled "Exploiting Terrorist Use of Games & Virtual Environments," the NSA believed that terrorists may be using these games as a communication network, and that leaving them under-monitored was a bad idea.

Games can be used to talk anonymously, the document reads, and therefore allows potential terrorists to share information between each other, and essentially hide in plain sight.

The Guardian's report says that it is currently unclear how the NSA accessed data from online games, or how many communications it collected together -- although it suggests that Linden Lab, the company behind Second Life, was helping the NSA out at some point.

The report claims that the company had a meeting with the NSA in 2007, to explain how Second Life could be used "to understand the motivation, context and consequent behaviors of non-Americans through observation, without leaving U.S. soil."

Notably, the Guardian stresses that the NSA document never gives evidence that terrorists are using video games to plot schemes and attacks. However, it claims that Xbox Live, Second Life and World of Warcraft accounts were found to be associated with the IP addresses and email addresses of Al-Qaida terrorists.

Of course, this was not enough to be considered proof -- which is why the document suggests that online games need to be monitored. "Only then can we find evidence that Games and Virtual Environments are being used for operational uses," it reportedly reads.

World of Warcraft studio Blizzard Entertainment said in a statement, "We are unaware of any surveillance taking place. If it was, it would have been done without our knowledge or permission."

Both Microsoft and Second Life company Linden Lab declined to comment on the report. The entire document can be found on ProPublica.


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Comments


Ariel Gross
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The NSA will say anything if it means they can play WoW at work.

Terry Matthes
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At this point with the Microsoft encryption exploit the NSA created during Windows development shouldn't we assume all Microsoft systems are under surveillance? This should also be a warning for Valve to be careful who they take advice from and what kind of encryption they choose for the Steam Box.

Doug Poston
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You should just assume *all* systems are under surveillance.

Ian Uniacke
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Even more so, it shows that it doesn't take intent (by Microsoft to abuse kinect) in order for the government to abuse it.

David Klingler
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I actually thought this was going on years ago in Counter Strike... I remember hearing about it.

Sean Kiley
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They might have trouble distinguishing between terrorists and foul-mouthed eight year olds.

Tanner Mickelson
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This news made me think the exact same thing. The foul mouthed 8 year olds do seem to have pretty violent intentions sometimes. I read somewhere else that the surveillance was so extreme that they had to go to extra trouble to prevent agents from running into each other online... Now I'm really suspicious of the mute players that go negative and seemingly don't know how to play lol.

Matt Ployhar
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SO TRUE! I've heard some crazy stuff come out of smack talking teens during game play.

Doug Poston
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I kind of like the idea of NSA/FBI/CIA agents roughing up foul mouthed 8-year-olds.

Somebody has to do it. ;)

Joaquim Guerreiro
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I doubt even al-qaeda can stomach the misogyny, constant grieifing of online games.

Mario Kummer
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Haha. So some agents were smart enough to convince their superiors that they can play all day? Did they work overtime when a raid was scheduled?
Everything else (mail, facebook, phone calls) is processed and analysed by software, but this must be done manually. I wonder how they decided where to play? "Boss this guild looks suspicious, I need 4 weeks to level up an alt, get equipped and get in touch with them".

Alex Covic
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#FreeLeeroyJenkins

Aleksander Adamkiewicz
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One would think that the real terrorists are playing EVE Online.

David Collier-Brown
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This greatly annoyed Charles Stross, who was writing a science fiction series where ...

To the National Security Agency analyst writing a briefing to his superiors, the situation was clear: their current surveillance efforts were lacking something. The agency's impressive arsenal of cable taps and sophisticated hacking attacks was not enough. What it really needed was a horde of undercover Orcs.

Real-life agents have been deployed into virtual realms, from those Orc hordes in World of Warcraft to the human avatars of Second Life. There were attempts, too, to recruit potential informants from the games' tech-friendly users.

See http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2013/12/psa-why-there
-wont-be-a-third-.html

Matt Ployhar
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Perhaps they should enlist the worlds gamers to help find the terrorists. Not treat them as potential terrorists.

Somara Atkinson
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So how many raids do you have to solo before you get invited into the secret terrorist guilds?

Paul Furio
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This is fairly old news. Even in the Original Xbox days, the Network Packet format designed by Microsoft was split up into a Data Segment, which could be encrypted to prevent hacking, and a Voice Segment, which was required to be sent in the clear. Guess which Government Agency mandated that the voice segment be unencrypted, so that terrorists could not use their gaming consoles as secure phones?

Christian Kulenkampff
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I guess it is really useful to have your fingers in as much electronic communication channels as possible. You can probably predict many social / economical / political movements and measure impact of political decisions very well. As a result the manipulation of social processes is much easier / more effective. Just identify some similar but separated communication networks and you can do pretty cool performance studies etc. Metrics-driven PR and decision making taken to the extreme! Maybe, in the near future, we won't need ballot boxes any more -.-

Wylie Garvin
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Here's one of the problems with the rampant spying and unchecked abuses of power by the NSA, and all the attendant secrecy.

How can you prove they didn't steal the last election? How can you prove they aren't blackmailing every senator, every congressperson, even the U.S. President?

They scoop up everybody's electronic communications from every channel they can get their dirty prying fingers into. Nearly all politicians have some skeletons in their closet, and the NSA has been peeking in every closet. They can harm anybody they don't like by just leaking that info to their political enemies or to the world at large. They can even extort specific favors from those people, and how would anyone know?

I mean, come on. There must be a reason people like Senator Diane Feinstein keep defending the heinous activities of the NSA. The only way her fawning over them makes any sense is if the NSA has some career-ruining leverage over her.

George Menhal III
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I like to think that gamers on average have a fairly high level of intelligence, but the apathy I see in the comments is an indication to the contrary. ALL Americans should be pissed off about this, regardless of whether or not they play games online. This mentality of "I don't have anything to hide, so I don't need to be concerned with my government spying on me" is about as childish and as intellectually lazy as it gets.

Amir Barak
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""I don't have anything to hide, so I don't need to be concerned with my government spying on me" is about as childish and as intellectually lazy as it gets."
Yet is also usually trailed by,
"How come they didn't see it coming? Why wasn't anyone listening to his/her phone? How could the government let this happen?"
Backlash when something does happen. So where's the line? Would you like the government to only spy on people that have something hide then?

***
Then again, if we put everything out in the open and we have nothing to hide, then how can the government spy on us?

Gern Blanston
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These criminals at the NSA deserve to be locked up. Nothing good will come of this.

Michael Joseph
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I wonder how much IP and trade secrets are stolen by NSA agents and passed on to "friendly" companies.

If you don't think spy networks are used for this sort of thing you are delusional.

Christian Kulenkampff
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http://www.smh.com.au/national/australian-spy-agency-helped-bhp-n
egotiate-trade-deals-20131106-2x1sw.html "In Australia, favoured firms getting spy material on Japanese contract policies and other business negotiations used to joke how [it had] 'fallen off the back of a truck'," Professor Clark wrote.

So you can bet on it. It probably happens everywhere, particularly in countries with big spy budgets.


Ryan Christensen
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This is pretty sad but on a lighter note, isn't everyone on Xbox Live a terrorist? I feel terrorized everytime I play console multiplayer, PC multiplayer is much more mature in comparison.

Glenn Sturgeon
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The NSA within its given reason is the biggest waste of tax payer money "on security" in history.
The shoe bomber still got on a plane in the US and the boston bombing still happened. They've been doing this spying on the world for about 10 years and its proven itself uneffective.
I dont think counter terrorism realy has anything to do with it beyond an excuse to stomp on the constitution.
I hope RosieABC gets em 8)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Om6nwHOFKDY&list=PLCEB3920EBD498EF
F

Adam Bishop
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This is going to do wonders for Kinect sales.

[User Banned]
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This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Ron Dippold
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My favorite quote in one of the articles:

'So many different US intelligence agents were conducting operations inside games that a "deconfliction" group was required to ensure they weren't spying on, or interfering with, each other.'

"G@$@$ it, ganked again by a f@#$ing spawncam... waaaaait, is that you Bob? Okay, I'm calling a meeting."

Amir Sharar
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I mentioned this on Twitter, this news was actually made very public nearly a decade ago.

From early 2004:
http://news.cnet.com/2100-1028-5172948.html

"Legal experts said the 85-page filing includes language that could be interpreted as forcing companies to build back doors into everything from instant messaging and voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) programs to Microsoft's Xbox Live game service. The introduction of new services that did not support a back door for police would be outlawed, and companies would be given 15 months to make sure that existing services comply."

Not only were all service providers required to comply, they were also expected to take on the costs involved.

Amir Barak
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Just started reading the actual document; it's quite interesting.

OK, so most of us here are obviously against the NSA "spying" within World of Warcraft and other online media. Are we denying the fact that terrorist elements and/or other potentially dangerous groups use social media in order to coordinate efforts? Are we saying the NSA is in the wrong because it's so obviously false that these groups use the Internet and social media to further their causes? If nothing else the NSA has just proved that large groups which seek to undermine our freedoms can coordinate quite well and mask their activities within these digital outlets.

So what's the solution to this problem? Ignore it and hope that dangerous groups simply decide one day not to use social media?

I understand the (very valid) concern that the NSA is abusing its power and their whole approach seems somewhat misguided. But instead of reacting with complete blind rage how about coming up with some helpful advice? How many of us here, burning with anger at the NSA, have contacted them and offered alternatives?

Someone mentioned harnessing the gaming communities which sounds like a good idea (as long as its done properly). What about the companies running these services, how better could they support efforts to protect us as consumers without stomping on our liberties?

Michael Joseph
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The odds of developing some form of cancer in your lifetime is ~1 in 3. The odds of dying by a terrorist attack are 8 - 20 million to 1 depending on where you get your statistics.

Spend hundreds of billions of dollars on _blanket_ warrant-less_ surveillance and 4 TRILLION dollars on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan over 20 years or find a cure for cancer? With all the pollution being pumped into the environment, cancer is a much bigger threat to anybody than terrorism.

Targeted surveillance of specific individuals with a warrant is the American way. The other way is baloney.

Amir, I wonder how many degrees of separation exist between you and some Imam who some might view as radical. 2? You never know. Well the NSA knows because they are mapping the social connectivity of everybody across all forms of communication. Better hope that Imam doesn't do something that gets you in trouble or added to a list just because you know a friend of a friend.

We should put our principles ahead of our fears.

Amir Barak
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I'm not American nor have I ever lived in the USA and I get my statistics from the guy on bus last week that got knifed in the throat because of terrorism and the teenagers on the wrong side of the fence getting shot because of terrorism and the little war we had here last year because of terrorism and the numerous acts of hate done by both sides because of terrorism.

I'd love to know how many degrees of separation exist between me and some Imam, Rabbi, Priest or any other religious leader so I can disassociate the f*** away from them.

If I know a friend of a friend of a terrorist then I guess I should learn to pick my friends better but it also means I shouldn't be surprised at being investigated nor would I resent authorities for it as long as it executed via due process.

And all of these points still haven't answered the main question. How do you stop/monitor social media being used by dangerous groups to coordinate efforts for violence?

Maria Jayne
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@Amir "And all of these points still haven't answered the main question. How do you stop/monitor social media being used by dangerous groups to coordinate efforts for violence?"

You can't, but what would really make the NSA case would be some statistical evidence of how much good such spying has done. If they came out and told people X Number of terrorists plots, cells or agents had been arrested or stopped, due to such monitoring, perhaps that would make this news less of a problem.

Personally I'm not actually that bothered, I don't live in the US but I also don't believe they are the only government organisation that does this. If my government or any government finds anything worth reading or listening to from me, they're welcome to it.

However, if we accept this...what happens to arguments of privacy in the future? what becomes acceptable use of invasion of privacy? It's similar to IP defence, you have to refuse to give ground, because if you let something slide, it will set a precedent for future violations.

Amir Barak
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What DOES happen to arguments of privacy?

What exactly is privacy in this case anyway?

What privacy do you think we have in our regular lives? How are we comprising this privacy? What do we do to ensure our privacy? How important is a broad definition of privacy to us as a society? Would we benefit from more or less privacy?

I'm assuming that by "IP" you're referring to Intellectual Property [rights]. Where do we really stand on this whole IP debate? The game's industry is seemingly moving away from protecting its costumers privacy and yet nothing is being done, in fact the more you want to preserve IP rights the less privacy you should give your customers.

How many gamers use Steam, Origin, Xbox Live, PSN, Nintendo whatever it's called. Is forcing us to go through iTunes for our games protecting our privacy? Does anyone care? Using credit cards to purchase goods in a store, is that protecting our privacy? Does anyone care? Would you conceal your face when you do shopping so that the clerks wouldn't know who buys the things you have in your cart? How far do we go to protect our privacy?

Again, what does privacy mean? Where and how do we draw the line?

There was a recent case here about computer lab technicians finding child porn on one of the computers that were brought to their care. They reported the guy and he was subsequently arrested. A clear breach of privacy, right? Awful people those lab technicians. Then again, if we had less privacy on the internet maybe he would have been arrested a lot sooner.

I'm not mounting a defense for either side, mind you, I'm just saying it is not a clear black/white subject that we can start labeling all the people working for the NSA as evil.

[User Banned]
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This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Christian Kulenkampff
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@Maria Jayne: Agencies did always target VIPs, but now they target everyone. The danger doesn't come from the data they can get from you individually, but the aggregation of all data. The implications of metrics driven game design and the Google/Facebook/free service economy should make clear how valuable such information are. A goverment can use data mining to optimize how a specific party is perceived etc. Manipulating economies is probably an old hat, but this rather new omniscience is very powerful and a new threat to democratic actionabilities.

Christian Kulenkampff
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(accidental double post)

Amir Barak
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"The implications of metrics driven game design"
What implications are these exactly, all I see are a lot of really bad games designed and lot and lots of clones of bad games. The only thing that I'm assuming business people who make F2P games and their ilk have learnt is the age old adage of "A fool and his money...". Are we really surprised that it's easy to steal money from children, people in a hard spot in their lives, and just the plain dumb? Is that really a surprise??

" new omniscience is very powerful and a new threat to democratic actionabilities."
I dunno, seems like a conspiracy theory in the making. I'm not saying it isn't true mind you but just that I'd like to see some serious research done towards this before accepting it as a given.

Also, big data has not proved to be the silver bullet to anything just yet. Sorting and understanding it hasn't actually yielded much insight as far as I've seen. I'll dig up some references for this later (and will post).

"Google/Facebook/free service economy "
Is Google/Facebook a free service economy? How do they get their money? and what does that have to do with the concept of data aggregation as it relates to social trends?

And finally, on a personal note, all this talk of big data this and big data that reminds me of Asimov's concept of Psycho-history... :P

Christian Kulenkampff
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>> What implications are these exactly
Metrics driven game design works. You can optimize your product by just placing some elements in the right place. You should think of the grand scale. In the near future (when really everybody uses the internet) the NSA as political complex will be able to cluster populations by specific communication cues, location etc. and help favourite political parties to optmize their performance in a way that other parties will have no chance at all. And the chances are too low already.

>> Is Google/Facebook a free service economy?
It is free in terms of direct monetary costs for end users. While those "free" service providers give you a service for your data, the NSA doesn't have to give you anything and you can not opt-out. Google got pretty rich and big by just knowing what everybody searches for. Just imagine the power you gain through everybody's complete electronic communication profiles. A simple innocent example: By historical matching determine all stock exchange experts -> listen to the experts -> profits. With the ability to listen secretly to everybody, you can harvest (and manipulate) everybody.

Amir Barak
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@Andrew
Much like Jeferson Soler you seem to be jumping to conclusions about people's background. *sigh*

"prevarication"
This is quite a cute word you got there but alas like many things it's not how big it is but how you use it :P

I'm not trying to evade or misdirect or move away from the truth in any way and in no place in my previous post have I made clear and cut statements. I've merely raised questions as to the definition of the term privacy. I've not contested the fact that your constitution grants you the right for privacy or the right against illegal search and seizure of private property. My point was to question whether digital packets sent through wires that ARE NOT YOURS, generated by software that IS NOT YOURS, and intercepted by other technologies that ARE NOT YOURS is maybe, I dunno, not your property?

Also what is this "privacy" exactly that you are eagerly jumping to defend? How exactly does your constitution define it?

"There is no gray here"
There is always gray. Hence amendments and new laws and new reforms and having need of courts and police etc. etc.

Doesn't the constitution also give every idiot in your country the right to bear arms? How's that going for you guys, lowered gun-related violence yet?

"Moreover, the 'security' we supposedly get from just handing those rights away is a complete myth"
So far neither side have provided any research stating results so this may be your gut feeling about it but it's far from the truth (or it is the truth, we can't know still).

"objectively analyze"
I don't believe in objectivity as a concept so there's very little here to discuss I think.

"It's the result of a pointless, bankrupt education system that teaches you that there is no right and wrong and everything is relative. "
Nah, that comes from having a brain and knowing how to use it that's all. I spent most of my time in high school at arcades playing video games :D (Also reading comics and lots and lots of books). By the way, I don't know if you've seen my other post but I honestly doubt I was taught in the same schooling system that you were.

"but doing nothing around the world to maybe stop people from wanting to kill us in the first place"
That, I couldn't agree more with... Barack Obama has probably done some serious damage to the United States on the global arena but again, this is my opinion and only time will tell.


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