Spycraft meets Warcraft: fantasy games the latest frontier for the NSA

9 Dec 2013

Goblins, orcs, dwarves and elves are the latest objects of suspicion for the US National Security Agency (NSA) which is understood to have planted agents in the popular online game, World of Warcraft.

The latest revelations from Edward Snowden is that the NSA and its UK counterpart GCHQ have infiltrated massive online gaming community.

Filed obtained by The Guardian, New York Times and ProPublica show that the spy agencies have built mass-collection capabilities against the Xbox Live console network.

In addition real-life agents have been deployed into the World of Warcraft universe as well as human avatars in Second Life.

World of Warcraft, which is published by Blizzard Entertainment, has a cult following among the online gaming community. The game takes place in a 3D representation of the Warcraft universe and gamers can embrace a fictional identity, challenge other players and communicate with other players.

The NSA authored a document in 2008 stressing the risk of leaving games communities under-monitored and described them as a target rich communications network where intelligence targets could hide in plain sight.

If properly exploited, online games could produce vast amounts of intelligence.

The document cited the danger of the talk channels being used by terrorists to communicate anonymously.

For its part Blizzard has denied any knowledge of any surveillance taking place on its network, echoing similar denouncements by Facebook and Google in the aftermath of the PRISM revelations earlier this year.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years