NSA: new report unearths spying on Xbox Live, WoW, more

Monday, 9th December 2013 14:06 GMT By Dave Cook

America’s National Security Agency is reportedly spying on players using Xbox Live, World of Warcraft, Second Life and other services.

The report follows a joint investigation carried out by The Guardian, New York Times, ProPublica, and backed bydocumentsunearthed by whistleblower Eric Snowden.

NSA records indicate that the agency sent agents into World of Warcraft under the guise of avatars to snoop on players, and in some cases attempt to recruit seasoned players to the cause. The paper, entitled ‘Exploiting Terrorist Use of Games & Virtual Environments’ shows that the agency also has the means to collect mass data from Xbox Live’s 48 million players.

The documents warn that leaving online game services unchecked renders them ideal for terrorists or wrongdoers looking to, “hide in plain sight”. They reveal that so many NSA agents and other third-party agencies were snooping around in games, that the task forces had to be properly measured to ensure they weren’t disrupting each other’s projects.

One page suggests that online games can be used to offer weapons training. An excerpt reads, “These games offer realistic weapons training (what weapon to use against what target, what ranges can be achieved, even aiming and firing, military operations and tactics, photorealistic land navigation and terrain familiarization, and leadership skills. While complete military training is best achieved in person, perfection is not always required to accomlish the missions. Some of the 9-11 pilots had never flown a real plane, they had only trained using Microsoft’s Flight Simulator.

“When the mission is expensive, risky or dangerous, it is often a wiser idea to exercise virtually, rather than really blow an operative up assembling a bomb or exposing a sleeper agent to law enforcement scrutiny. Militaries around the world use virtual simulators with great success and the Hizballah even hooked up a PlayStation controller to a laptop in order to guide some of its real missiles.”

There is also mention of Al Qaida using Xbox Live, Second Live and World of Warcraft, along with Chinese hackers, an Iranian nuclear scientist, Hizballah and Hamas members.

It has been suggested that by infiltrating games in this manner, the NSA can catch wind of hacking attempts, make friends with suspects, build their real-world profile, find out their location and earn enough of their trust to see their profile pictures. Gaining access to voice and text chat logs appears to be instrumental to this process.

The Guardian in particular notes that the documents fail to disclose any known instances of when online gaming was used as a meeting place to discuss terrorist activity, or if indeed the NSA’s attempts were successful in uncovering suspects. The site adds that it isn’t clear exactly how the agency gained access to said data, or if it managed to avoid spying on innocent players.

World of Warcraft developer Blizzard has since pleaded that it was in the dark surrounding NSA activity. The studio said in a statement, “We are unaware of any surveillance taking place. If it was, it would have been done without our knowledge or permission.”

Second Life developer Linden Lab did not reply to comment requests, but Microsoft issued the following statement to Polygon:

“We’re not aware of any surveillance activity. If it has occurred as reported, it certainly wasn’t done with our consent.”

The NSA’s sister agency GCHQ did respond however, and stated, “All GCHQ’s work is carried out in accordance with a strict legal and policy framework which ensures that its activities are authorised, necessary and proportionate, and there is rigorous oversight, including from the secretary of state, the interception and intelligence services commissioners and the Intelligence and Security Committee.”

An excerpt from the NSA documents reads, “Al-Qaida terrorist target selectors and … have been found associated with XboxLive, Second Life, World of Warcraft, and other GVEs [Games and Virtual Environments]. Other targets include Chinese hackers, an Iranian nuclear scientist, Hizballah, and Hamas members.”

However, The Guardian offers that this is inconclusive, seeing as someone could have used the same computer or IP address – perhaps at an internet cafe – as these suspects to play games, and is no guarantee that the players and suspects are one and the same.

Regardless, by September 2008, the GCHQ was able to successfully obtain discussions between players conducted on Xbox Live. At the same time, the FBI, CIA, and the Defense Humint Service were infiltrating Second Life amid fears that the Linden Dollar currency was being used to launder the money of terrorists.

Read the documents in full via the first link and let us know what you think below.



  1. ddtd

    You know its bad when US based companies are publicly announcing that they’re actively trying to block the NSA from their services, but this takes the cake. :p

    #1 12 months ago
  2. Fin


    #2 12 months ago
  3. Tiucaner

    This doesn’t surprise me in any way.

    #3 12 months ago
  4. Dragon

    WoW….. not really.

    This may sound clichéd, but is happening and will continue to happen.

    “fear of the unknown” at its finest.

    #4 12 months ago
  5. viralshag

    Yeah, you’d have to be amazingly naive to be surprised by this.

    #5 12 months ago
  6. pukem0n

    let the paranoia train roll….chew chew

    #6 12 months ago
  7. TrickyAudio

    Bin Laden was an Orc. Loved abit of leveling between terrorising. Not much else you could do in a cave for 10 years, tbf.

    #7 12 months ago
  8. foofly

    Wasn’t it Club Penguin in Four Lions?

    #8 12 months ago
  9. Panthro

    QUICK! Shut off your Kinects!

    Oh… They haven’t even been taken out of the box yet? Never-mind then.

    #9 12 months ago

    So ‘No Russian’ was a terrorist baiting trap all along…

    Who knew…?

    #10 12 months ago
  11. xxxGamesMasterxxx

    I knew it! *throws xbox one kinect out the window*

    #11 12 months ago
  12. manamana

    We all know by now that even terrorists must play games…
    Get the fuck outta here, you US Nazi NSA bastards!

    #12 12 months ago
  13. polygem

    this is the new fascism. obey the leader.

    #13 12 months ago
  14. polygem

    …damn, now they’ve tracked me…

    #14 12 months ago
  15. Cobra951

    Snowden may just be the best whistleblower yet. We need exposures like these to shine some light on the darker agencies at play here, and keep them in check. The scary problem is that, to some degree, the NSA is right. It’s not about whether terrorists play games. Obviously they do. It’s about figuring out new ways of detecting them and catching them. The world is now a borderless war zone, basically. Innocents will get caught in the crossfire now and then. The alternative is to just let the bad guys do the shooting.

    #15 12 months ago
  16. lolatfanboys

    It´s getting harder and harder to be seen as paranoid :&

    @15 if innocents get caught in the crossfire anyway than why care and let the government spy on all people? Let the police and border patrol take care of it, now and then a few death through bombing is nothing compared to the death by car, cancer, alcohol …guns, etc. So why spend billions of dollars and take away one right after the other? Think about it.

    @ NSA You deserve every penny up your arse that you get…oh that came out wrong…please don´t take a way my freedom of speech please please I love sarcasm and irony so much :(

    #16 12 months ago
  17. angry_nation

    *Edward* Snowden

    #17 12 months ago
  18. Ireland Michael

    It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.

    #18 12 months ago
  19. Cobra951

    @16: I’ve spent about 30 years thinking about it, ever since the kind of evil Western civilization faces became clear to me. If we don’t take the trash out, it takes us out. The greatest challenge is finding it. I’m not saying it’s OK to dismiss our liberties. I’m saying it’s a generations-long high-stakes game where mistakes will be made. We can expose and rectify mistakes–to wit, this story. Freedom of speech is intact.

    Let’s not equate the intentional slaughter of innocents with deadly, unintended mistakes, yes?

    #19 12 months ago
  20. manamana

    @19 because spying on other politicians like Merkel prevents from terror acts. Sorry but no. This has gotten out of hand and quite dramatically so.

    #20 12 months ago
  21. deathm00n

    @5 Hey viral, let’s create a corp in EVE called “Not NSA people at all” and begin asking personal questions to other players, it will be fun.

    @topic The people saying the Xbox One would be supplying NSA with info must be really proud now.

    #21 12 months ago
  22. JB

    #22 12 months ago
  23. fearmonkey

    Not surprised at this at all, one reason I am not crazy about the Kinect and the PS4 camera. If there is a way for the NSA to use it, you know they will, with or without MS’s or Sony’s permission. Ms gave the NSA it’s permission for Skype, so why would the new kinect be any different.

    #23 12 months ago
  24. thiz

    No suprise. And again, it doesnt matter to the people or else they would start revolutions and force them to stop this kind of stuff, but we don’t so humanity obviously has no problem with it.

    #24 12 months ago
  25. OneLifeCycle

    @23 Yup, agree completely. It’s the main reason I passed on the Xbone this go-round and now have a PS4 sitting next to my TV.

    The NSA spies one everyone, not for “terrorists” but for dissenters. They’re extremely paranoid.

    #25 12 months ago
  26. salarta

    You know what would be (not) hilarious? If it turned out the NSA was one of the biggest gold-buyers in MMOs so they could shortcut their way into groups.


    “These games offer realistic weapons training”

    …What. What. WHAT? I’m seriously sitting here trying to stop myself from laughing at this. I get that some games can prepare you for such things, but no way in hell most MMOs are any better than actual physical training routine.

    This is blatantly some people at the NSA that play video games realizing that video games aren’t heavily monitored, then realizing how stupid it would be for terrorists to use online games for their dealings but going ahead with it anyway so they can pretend that playing WoW is work. I mean seriously, when you have so many agents on a case like this that you need a way to track how many agents you have on a case like this, they’re doing it to get paid to play games.

    The ONLY one of these that comes anywhere close to making sense is Second Life, only because businesses have actually used it to conduct business meetings and it’s free.

    Dear lord does the NSA need to be reined in, bad.

    #26 12 months ago
  27. Phasmatis75

    Please, the NSA doesn’t go after terrorists. Most terrorists are manipulated or directly controlled by the CIA, Mussad, and M16 and pose very little threat unless the government wants a law passed. No, what this is about is control, it’s about maintaining control over the citizenry who are quickly wising up to the fact that maybe the US government is corrupt beyond measure and will likely be the benchmark for corruption for the next 1000 years.

    Also the it’s about keeping America’s position on top for as long as possible. This is why these spy agencies are going after foreign corporations to give “our” corporations benefits in negotiations. They spy on governments so when they want to push their latest illegal war they have leverage against that nation (Germany).

    If you don’t believe me, start reading what analysts have had to say.

    #27 12 months ago
  28. Obernox

    @27 what? i think you need to put on your tin foiled hat, the Illuminati might be beaming junk into your head.

    #28 12 months ago
  29. monkeygourmet


    It’s December and clocks only go up to 12…

    Epic fail…

    #29 12 months ago
  30. Ireland Michael

    @29 Seriously?

    #30 12 months ago
  31. monkeygourmet



    Sorry, couldn’t resist!

    #31 12 months ago
  32. drewbles82

    bomb bomb bomb bomb bomb, murder lots of bombs, murder

    *Smashed window*

    Sh*t its the feds

    #32 12 months ago
  33. lolatfanboys

    Well one thing for sure, the next uprising will be more violent than ever before in history. And we will have sometime in the future Skynet (fighting against Drones) in the next history textbooks (possibly paperless Pads xD)but we all know how evolutionary our school are, always pushing the edge on how to even more efficiently not teach us anything relevant.

    #33 12 months ago
  34. bradk825

    Meh. Still not worried. I don’t really interact with anyone online if I don’t know them in real life, and I am not arrogant enough to think the NSA gives a fuck what I am doing in my living room. Even if they could turn on a magic spycam and have access to the camera, the worst they will see is me changing diapers. (not my own diaper, come on now)

    Still though, I sincerely doubt they will ever get access to those cameras. It would be too highly illegal, especially without a warrant, and even more especially because I don’t live in the USA.

    #34 12 months ago
  35. DSB

    The funniest thing about the Snowden docs is that most of it is common knowledge. Nobody seems to give a fuck until it’s splashed on CNN and social media.

    When I was playing back in 2007 it was common knowledge that US intelligence were monitoring WoW, we talked about it in the guild. I’m pretty sure it was based on a news story that a cell had been broken up because they’d been trying to use WoW to communicate.

    Here we go, old fricken news:

    @27 Kill yourself.

    #35 12 months ago
  36. sebastien rivas

    Yeah well, probability doesn’t make up for certainty.
    Do you see terrorists recruiting wow players or any RPGs for that matter and alike… seriously.
    NSA really need to smoke the pipe to decompress.
    It just does not make sense and gamers are a different bred than masstv viewers
    Therefore NSA, TURN THE DAM SPY OFF, period!!!

    Btw, that’s how Americans get bad, bad rep. Check @ 12.
    Again gamers are not mass TV viewers, creating fear does not work, it pisses people off and me included.

    #36 12 months ago
  37. lolatfanboys

    @ 34 “It would be too highly illegal, especially without a warrant, and even more especially because I don’t live in the USA.”

    ever heard of something called patriot act? Hint: it has nothing to do with Mel Gibson xD

    And if you don´t live in the USA you are fair game anyway. Like the US gives a flying fuck about other countries lol

    #37 12 months ago
  38. bradk825

    I don’t live in Syria, it’s cool. Not worried about the patriot act.
    You worry too much. Hakuna Mattatta.

    #38 12 months ago
  39. spangar11

    lol the pilots of 9/11 were trained on MS flight simulator. people still falling for the 9/11 shit? and since when do MMO’s and shooters train people for combat. fuck boot camp just get a kid who plays call of duty or bf all day

    #39 12 months ago
  40. AlainEgli

    my Aunty Audrey just got a new cream Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid just by some parttime working online with a laptop. look at here now

    #40 12 months ago
  41. lolatfanboys

    People are always told that they worry too much, until they don´t have to worry anymore at all xD

    #41 12 months ago
  42. Puggy

    Hm, so People in the US pay taxes, in order for some of their official bodies to Play MMOs? Honestly, that is awesome. What do you have to do to sign up there, because I think there are a lot of people who would love to get paid for playing WoW or whatever game there might be.

    And this whole thing sounds somehow like a whole division just slacking off and masking it as hard work. How did they coordinate their forces so they do not interfere with each other? A TS Server for their Raids Err, I mean Operations of course.

    Sorry, but this sounds less like conspiracy and more like a giant waste of tax money… your money!
    Making Friends with people, getting to their profile and getting pictures… I mean really? They get paid for that? O.o
    If you need new agents, we have schools full of Kids who do only that for years now. Just saying.

    #42 12 months ago

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