WASHINGTON, D.C.: Freshly leaked documents by former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden on Monday revealed spies disguised as fantasy characters prowled online games hunting terrorists.
Elves, orcs or other fictional characters happened upon by players in the popular realm of World of Warcraft may have been US and British spies, according to documents released through ProPublica, the Guardian, and The New York Times.
There were also indications that intelligence agents went under-cover in online multi-player shooter games, particularly on Microsoft’s Xbox Live Internet community for players.
“GVEs [games and virtual environments]are an opportunity!” concluded ‘top secret’ National Security Agency documents dating back about five years.
“We know that terrorists use many feature rich Internet commu-nications media for operational purposes, such as email, VoIP, chat, proxies and web forums, and it is highly likely they will be making use of the many communications features offered by games and virtual environments.”
The report depicted online game worlds as private meeting places that could be used by groups for planning and training.
Examples used to back the reasoning included an “America’s Army” shooter game made by the US military and given away as a free download at its recruiting website.
“The game is so good at identifying candidates that it is now used for training,” the document said.
It went on to tell of Hezbollah creating a shooter game for recruitment and training, with the ultimate goal of play being to be a suicide martyr.
“While complete military training is best achieved in person, complete perfection is not always required to accomplish the mission,” the report argued, noting that some 9/11 attackers were taught piloting with flight simulation software.
Spies have created characters in fantasy worlds of Second Life and World of Warcraft to carry out surveillance, recruit informers and collect data, The New York Times said.
“It wasn’t enough that they were snooping on email conversations; able to tap phone calls; weaken encryption standards; use sophis-ticated hacking techniques to install spyware on targeted computers . . . they needed to extend their range to Middle Earth and Xbox Live as well,” computer security specialist and author Graham Cluley said in a blog post reacting to the news.
“How about all these people playing ‘Draw Something’ who might be doodling secret messages to fellow criminals or conspirators?” he added facetiously.
Microsoft and WoW maker Blizzard Entertainment released independent statements saying they knew nothing of spies snooping in their online worlds.
The report came as eight leading US-based technology companies called on Washington to overhaul its surveillance laws following months of revelations of online eavesdropping from the former National Security Agency contractor.