Is being watched in an MMO by Spooks OK?

By now most gamers have head about the NSA watching games like WoW and SecondLife for dangerous individuals. If you’re also watching out for potential impacts from the NSA’s activities exposed recently, you’re probably now saturated with odd and scary stories.

A meandering thought or two is below.

Frankly the entire concept reads like fiction to me, and is scary enough that I’m seriously considering changing a huge amount of what tools I use and what I do online.

By way of really dreadful example – please consider these revelations about what is plausible for surveillance. It is an video explanation of the methods recently exposed. Actual hardware hacks, device exploits, and all other manner of “hacks and hijacks”.

In terms of the monitoring of players in an MMO – the premise of this strategy is broken. I don’t get it. Trying to monitor an online community to find a person would be a monumental task, and even if it was just in WoW I am doubtful that even the vendor could trace and understand suspicious behavior. The NSA doing it without Blizz-Acti’s involvement is a joke. Now I’m not at all literate in security and monitoring tech or protocols so perhaps “they” do have a funky solution to do this. I’d take that bet.

A sneaky type of person is still not going to use plain words to describe their plans, and that makes a game like wow even harder to filter from. In game we regularly talk about killing, raiding, destroying, and all those other emotive words all the time. Amongst the banter and silliness detection would be an interesting task. Consider too that if nasty folks were within the games they would certainly not be using the same elaborate or emotive language. There might be a weakish point to be made about hiding in all that noise, but essentially it sounds like malarkey. I don’t think a terror cell is going to depend on security through obscurity.

Oh, I forgot to write about if it was ok? Is that level of OK different depending on a the NSA doing it, a private person doing it, or if they only look at particular communities?

Well no. I don’t like it anywhere, but if they are paying a subscription and playing using the terms of service for the game then more power to them. Just like if they were standing on a street corner with a camera. I don’t like it, but I can’t see it being essentially evil. If they are hacking other players “for the greater good” then that is way too far.

These are not privacy risks anymore, they are issues. We know that some government security organsiations operate outside the realms of reason. To be fair I’m not sure you can hunt and protect against the insane without using methods that are not also borderline insane. I don’t have a fixed stance on that issue because I don’t like the slippery slope argument it presents. Freedom vs Security is ugly.

There are privacy issues, but worrying about what the NSA (and the other like minded organisations) might do now that we know what they are actually doing … well its like worrying about your luggage missing a connecting flight when a city is nuked. The smaller problem might still be present, but there is a much greater problem that should be worrying everyone.

If the agents playing these games were just taking the piss out of their organisation then I think that is a shitty waste of resources. It is funny for a day, then it is just poor.

If the idea was a short lived test then that even is silly. Every “engine” gives different options. Are they writing custom mods to monitor /Trade and /GeneralChat? Those log files would be horrendous.

A counter theory might be that they actually knew of a “terror cell” using a game as a communications platform. Maybe an informant told them? Sheesh it is insane to even think that tracking in there is plausible, and then with evidence they should have approached the vendor.