New leaked documents from Edward Snowden reveal that the NSA and British intelligence have been spying on people in World of Warcraft and other online games. And Neal Stephenson's epic spy novel REAMDE predicted this whole mess back in 2011.


Over at Ars Technica, Sean Gallager reports:

"Al Qaida terrorist target selectors and GVE executables have been found associated with Xbox Live, Second Life, World of Warcraft, and other GVEs in PINWALE network traffic, TAO databases, and in forensic data," the report stated. "Other targets include Chinese hackers, an Iranian nuclear scientist, Hizballah, and Hamas members." And the games and virtual worlds not only provided a potential way to monitor communications between these individuals but could also provide their geographic location, information on their social networks (through buddy lists), and a potential way to drop malware onto their computers to collect even more data. "It has been well documented that terrorists are OPSEC and tech savvy and are only getting more so over time," the report noted. "These applications and their servers however, are trusted by their users and make a connection to another computer on the Internet, which can then be exploited."

The GCHQ "has a vigorous effort to exploit GVEs," the research report stated, and by January 2007, it had already built test versions of "exploitation modules" for Xbox Live and World of Warcraft. The GCHQ had expected to integrate the monitoring of Xbox Live and WoW into its reporting by April of 2008.


If you'll recall, in Neal Stephenson's latest novel REAMDE, one of the major subplots has to do with a virus written by Chinese hackers who want to bilk people who play an online fantasy game similar to World of Warcraft but with built-in anonymity. Their relatively harmless scam has spilled out of the game world and infected the laptops of a Russian mafia heavy, who wants these hackers' blood.

And that's when — semi-randomly — a group of terrorists enter the picture. I'm not going to give the rich and excellent plot away, but suffice to say the action leads to a bunch of intelligence agents having to play a fantasy role playing game for a sweaty weekend in the Philippines in order to gather intel.


In the context of Stephenson's novel, this is a legitimate intelligence-gathering activity. The agents have to do it because the case they're pursuing actually is taking place partly in the game world. They're not doing what Snowden's leaks reveal the NSA has been doing since 2008, which is basically a fishing expedition where a bunch of agents are paid to play WOW and Second Life to see if they can find some bad guys.