Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

U.S., Britain reportedly busy spying on Net fantasy gamers

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LONDON -- American and British intelligence operations have been spying on gamers across the world, media outlets reported, saying the world's most powerful espionage agencies sent undercover agents into virtual universes to monitor activity in online fantasy games such as World of Warcraft.

Stories carried Monday by the New York Times, the Guardian and ProPublica said U.S. and U.K. spies have spent years trawling online games for terrorists or informants. The stories were based on documents leaked by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.

Virtual universes like World of Warcraft can be massively popular, drawing in millions of players who log months' worth of real-world time. At its height, World of Warcraft boasted some 12 million paying subscribers. Other virtual worlds, like Linden Labs' Second Life or the various games hosted by Microsoft's Xbox host millions more.

Spy agencies worry such games serve as a good cover for terrorists or other evildoers who could use in-game messaging systems to swap information.

At the request of its British counterpart, GCHQ, the NSA began extracting World of Warcraft data from its global intelligence haul, trying to tie specific accounts and characters to Islamic extremism and arms-dealing efforts, the Guardian reported.

Such intelligence could bring real-world espionage success, one of the documents stated, noting World of Warcraft subscribers included "telecom engineers, embassy drivers, scientists, the military and other intelligence agencies."


-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 10, 2013 B7

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