Revealed: NSA Infiltrating Online Games Like World of Warcraft and Second-Life

Players of fantasy games like World of Warcraft are usually worried about their character dying or running out of money. But new documents leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden reveal that they should have another concern: government spying.

The New York Times’ and Pro Publica’s Mark Mazzetti and Justin Elliott have written a story detailing how the National Security Agency and its British counterpart, Government Communication Headquarters, have infiltrated the online games World of Warcraft and Second Life.  Known as massively multiplayer online role-playing games, World of Warcraft and Second Life create virtual worlds for players.  

The NSA and GCHQ have collected data and the content of communications of players in the games.  They have also created characters for the express purpose of infiltrating the games to spy on and recruit players to become informers.  It’s the latest revelation to show that the NSA has a “collect it all” model that now extends to video games.

The intelligence agencies say they are worried that terrorists could use the games to communicate.  But so far, there is no evidence the spying has gathered evidence on terrorists, though the NSA has said that they have identified militants who play the games.  Still, there’s no evidence they have played the games for illegal or violent purposes. As cyberwar expert Peter Singer told the reporters, these games “are built and operated by companies looking to make money, so the players’ identity and activity is tracked...For terror groups looking to keep their communications secret, there are far more effective and easier ways to do so than putting on a troll avatar.”

It’s unclear whether Americans’ data have been scooped up in the efforts, which could be a violation of the law.  

Blizzard, the company that makes World of Warcraft, said they had not granted permission for the NSA to spy on their players.  GCHQ would not comment. While Blizzard says they are not cooperating with the NSA, Second Life, on some level, has cooperated. In 2007, NSA officials met with the head technology officer of the manufacturer of the game, Cory Ondrejka, a former naval official who had worked with the NSA. By the end of 2008, the British intelligence agency had begun spying on Second Life.


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