NSA decides that online gamers are worth spying on.

by: Sean Cahill -
More On: World of Warcraft

We here at Gaming Nexus like to keep it friendly and upbeat, though we can't guarantee we won't get mad if you score a goal against us in FIFA 14 or steal that ultra-rare item in World of Warcraft or Guild Wars 2.  What we can guarantee, however, is that we aren't worth being spied on by the NSA.  The government's security agency, however, disagrees.

An expose' written over at Pro Publica reports that the NSA, CIA, and FBI, have been infiltrating online games and actually spying on its players, believing that they were up to some type of shenanigans that is a threat to national security.  Some games involved in the spying are the long running World of Warcraft and Second Life.  There's no real rhyme or reason as to why the NSA has decided to target gamers in these titles, but the report states that the belief is that the games can be used to communicate, move money, or even plot attacks.

So, instead of doing the intelligent thing and perhaps asking Blizzard to actually take a look at chat logs, this insinuates that the NSA has decided to just make characters and basically go roaming in the games.  There are many reasons why this is insane, but let's try to add a little humor to this and go from there.

- The report says that the NSA basically made characters and tried to hire informants inside the game.  Imagine sitting at your computer, waiting to do a raid, and having someone approach you to spy on your guild mates.  /ignore 

- Did these workers at the NSA actually have to go and level up their characters?  Maybe they bought fully equipped accounts from a chinese gold-farming website!  /irony

- The NSA hit up Second Life.  Do they even do research on what exactly occurs in Second Life?  Hint:  It isn't exactly rated E for everyone.

- While I find this somewhat humorous, here's something painfully true:  The NSA is using tax dollars to spy on video gamers.

All in all, the story is well worth the read (you can find the link in the release below) and might make you think twice that the random guy who hit you up to "go spying" at three in the morning may not have been that crazy.

In a new report based on classified documents leaked by former National Security Agency contractor Edward J. Snowden, ProPublica and The New York Times write today that American and British spies have infiltrated online fantasy games, fearing that militants could use them to communicate, move money or plot attacks.

Because militants often rely on features common to the games - fake identities, voice and text chats, a way to conduct financial transactions - the National Security Agency and its British counterpart, the Government Communications Headquarters, worried that they might be operating there, according to the papers. So they created make-believe characters within the games, played by millions of people across the globe, to snoop and to try to recruit informers,

while also collecting data and contents of communications between players. Among the highlights of the report, from Justin Elliott of ProPublica and Mark Mazzetti of The New York Times: So many C.I.A., F.B.I. and Pentagon spies were hunting around in Second Life that a "deconfliction" group was needed to avoid collisions.

The documents do not cite any counterterrorism successes from the effort, and former American intelligence officials, current and former gaming company employees and outside experts said in interviews that they knew of little evidence that terrorist groups viewed the games as havens to communicate and plot operations.

There have been some benefits: GCHQ's "network gaming exploitation team" had identified engineers, embassy drivers, scientists and other foreign intelligence operatives to be World of Warcraft players - potential targets for recruitment as agents.

The full story is here: http://www.propublica.org/article/world-of-spycraft-intelligence-agencies-spied-in-online-games/. While it cannot be republished, summaries and links are welcome, and Elliott is available for interviews.