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NSA spied on 'World of Warcraft' and Xbox Live online games

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World of Warcraft Cataclysm (Blizzard)
World of Warcraft Cataclysm (Blizzard)

American and British intelligence agencies have "infiltrated" online games including World of Warcraft and Second Life. That's according to documents dating back to 2008, leaked by Edward Snowden and reported on by The Guardian, ProPublica, and The New York Times.

A "deconfliction" group was set up to avoid agents spying on one another

Spies from multiple American and British agencies reportedly created characters to snoop on gamers, fearing that terrorists could blend in with legitimate players and use the anonymity and cover MMOPRGs (massively multiplayer online role playing games) offer to communicate, transfer funds, or plan attacks. The documents show that spies from both the CIA and FBI were active in Second Life, and a "deconfliction" group was set up to avoid agents spying on one another.

In addition to virtually wandering the World of Warcraft, agencies also used open-source packet-sniffing software to filter out data using parsing scripts provided by the UK's GCHQ. "These logs are now being forwarded to GCHQ for additional analysis, target development, and network knowledge enrichment," reads the leaked document. It continues to note that GCHQ has uncovered potential Signals Intelligence by "identifying accounts, characters, and guilds related to Islamic extremist groups, nuclear proliferation, and arms dealing."

All three publications note that a GCHQ document, also dating back to 2008, claims the agency has "successfully been able to get the discussions between different game players on Xbox Live." It's important to note these documents are all five years old now, and it's not clear if the agencies still have access to any of the networks mentioned in the reports.

The documents also show mobile gaming was a potential target. The document predates the iPhone's App Store and the prolific rise of smartphone games, and it appears agencies were biding their time, waiting for the mobile gaming market to become more popular before considering action.