From the desk of everyone’s favorite leaker, Edward Snowden: The National Security Agency apparently infiltrated the database of online games such as World of Warcraft and other Xbox games. The documents were published Monday in the Guardian and The New York Times, in partnership with ProPublica. According to these documents, the NSA can collect massive amounts of data from the Xbox Live gaming console—which has, oh, 48 million members. That’s not creepy at all. The documents, written in 2008, sound kind of like your mom when warning you about the problems of video games, stressing that many important intelligence targets are within the network.
"I think I've heard it all now," wrote British security analyst Graham Cluely.
"Obviously online games which include chat or IM facilities do provide a method for people to communicate ... but how practical is it to have a team of spies sniffing around 'World of Warcraft' to see what they might find?" he wrote.
"Why aren't they also snooping -- maybe they are! -- on the chess app I have on my smartphone? Perhaps every time I mess up my Dutch Stonewall defence it's not really an indication that I'm a lousy chess student, but instead a coded message for my opponent to launch an attack on SCADA systems in the Netherlands?"
Snowden, 30, has admitted he was the source behind the leak of classified NSA documents, which revealed the existence of top-secret surveillance programs that collect records of domestic e-mails and telephone calls in the United States and monitor the cell phone and Internet activity of overseas residents.
A former contractor with the agency, he is wanted in the United States on espionage charges.
The surveillance, which also included Microsoft’s Xbox Live, could raise privacy concerns. It is not clear exactly how the agencies got access to gamers’ data or communications, how many players may have been monitored or whether Americans’ communications or activities were captured.
Also, the documents do not cite any counterterrorism successes from the effort, and former American intelligence officials, current and former gaming company employees and outside experts have said in interviews that they knew of little evidence that terrorist groups viewed the games as havens to communicate and plot operations.