Intelligence Agencies Infiltrating Online Games
A United States intelligence agency is infiltrating online games to monitor players for anti-terror purposes.
Iarpa (Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity), has adopted a new intelligence gathering method, by which agents join online games such as World of Warcraft and Second Life, and use the virtual avatars to snoop on other players.
Such games have more than half a billion players around the globe, according to project manager Rita Bush. Players include many young Muslim men.
The idea is to study how these online characters behave and communicate with one another for insights into how real-life people in hostile cultures think and act.
IARPA officials think that analyzing avatars’ behavior in a “virtual world” can produce useful insights into the nationalities, genders, approximate ages, occupations, education levels, even the ideologies of their creators in the “real world.” Players also use avatars to communicate with one another.
“One of the goals of this program will be to understand how terror groups might use such virtual worlds to communicate,” said V.S. Subrahmanian, the director of the Institute for Advanced Computer Studies at the University of Maryland, who isn’t connected with IARPA.
IARPA is modeled after the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which has conducted far-out research for the Defense Department since 1958. DARPA’s many innovations include the Internet, GPS and robotic vehicles.
Founded two years ago, IARPA has contracted with about 75 university research laboratories and 50 technology companies, large and small, to work on innovative solutions to future intelligence needs.
This internet age of intelligence gathering is called Open Source Intelligence (Osint) and is now also being implemented throughout the EU.
A meeting in Brussels of “the Budapest Club” in 2010 attracted over 150 specialists from 14 EU countries keen on sharing Osint intelligence. Targets include jihadist blogs and chat rooms, pay-per-view databases, commercial satellite images, grey literature (technical reports by government bodies) and the deep web (internet pages not picked up by popular search engines).
The Budapest Club has set up a password-protected website for participants to share security updates and ideas on Osint techniques. The model is the Intelipedia – a Wikipedia-type site set up in the US so that its 16-or-more intelligence bureaux can talk to each other to help “prevent another 9/11″. Meanwhile, Eurosint is in charge of Virtuoso, a commission-funded scheme to produce new “middleware,” or software that will enable the 11 participating EU countries to swap Osint gadgets back and forth.
Internet privacy is a grey area, and so far nobody has challenged the intelligence services who are mining this data.